Cuomo calls for $796M state aid increase

Regents, NYSSBA recommended more than twice as much for New York schools

by Brian Fessler

On Board Online • January 22, 2018

By Brian Fessler
Deputy Director of Governmental Relations

When the 2018 Legislature considers school aid in coming months, whose recommendations will hold sway? Different numbers have been suggested by educational advocacy groups, the state Board of Regents and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, respectively.

On Jan. 16, the governor proposed increasing state aid by $796 million, or 3 percent. That's short of what the Regents have recommended - a $1.6 billion increase.

The Educational Conference Board - a coalition of state education groups including NYSSBA - has called for a $2 billion increase. The group estimates that $1.5 billion is needed from the state just to maintain current services.

[Editor's Note: Look for an analysis of the governor's executive budget proposal on www.nyssba.org/advocacy and in the next issue of On Board.]

"Historically, the Executive Budget has been a starting point on school aid discussions," said Julie Marlette, NYSSBA's director of governmental relations. "This year, we expect legislators to be very attentive to the ideas that have been raised by the ECB and the Regents to both modernize our system of allocating aid and meet unprecedented levels of need in the classroom. "

In December, the Regents acknowledged the "fiscal challenges the State of New York is facing in the coming budget year," but noted that many school districts continue to face their own challenges, including growing student populations with unique needs.

The Regents' proposal focused on four main components: continuing the phase-in of the foundation aid formula, continuing the expansion of prekindergarten programs, enhancing support for English language learners (ELLs) and expanding college and career pathways.

For foundation aid, the Regents are asking elected officials to provide an increase of $1.25 billion. As part of that request, a uniform phase-in increase would go to all districts that currently are receiving less in foundation aid than the formula says they should. The Regents also recommended a minimum increase for all districts, including those that are fully phased in. As part of the proposed increase, the Regents would set aside $85 million for ELL students, requiring districts to spend a specific amount of their foundation aid on ELL services.

As part of a plan to expand college and career pathways, the Regents called for a phased-in increase to the aidable salary cap for BOCES career and technical education (CTE) teachers, as well as the creation of a CTE reimbursement aid for non-BOCES component districts. Another $25 million would be provided in 2018-19 to those non-component districts in order to assist with the transition to the new funding method.

The Regents are recommending an additional $20 million to support continued expansion of prekindergarten opportunities for young students across the state. The Regents also expressed support for a study to evaluate the effectiveness of transportation aid for prekindergarten students.

Finally, the Regents' proposal includes funding for expense-based aids, which provide state reimbursement for district costs such as transportation, capital construction, BOCES and special education services. Projections based on early data put the cost at $314 million above 2017-18 funding levels.

NYSSBA has produced its own set of state budget recommendations that are consistent with policy priorities set by delegates at NYSSBA's Annual Business Meeting and NYSSBA's Board of Directors. While differing in some details from both the ECB and Regents' proposals, there are more similarities than differences. The ECB, the Regents and NYSSBA expressed unanimous desire to see foundation aid fully funded for all school districts in the near future.

Key features of NYSSBA's proposal include:

Foundation aid. In order to achieve full funding, NYSSBA is recommending a three year phase-in, with a $1.4 billion foundation aid increase for 2018-19. All districts would receive at least a minimum level of foundation aid increase, with a particular focus on districts that are most severely underfunded under the statutory foundation aid formula. In addition, NYSSBA suggests a number of updates and improvements to the formula itself, including elimination of the arbitrary floor on the income wealth index, an adjustment to the weighting for English language learner students and a review of the impact of enrollment loss on districts' wealth measurements.

NYSSBA's foundation aid proposal is the largest single component of the Association's $2 billion overall school aid request. Instead of a foundation aid set-aside, as the Regents proposed, NYSSBA supports a separate funding stream for districts that have experienced recent growth in ELL student populations and additional financial support for districts with overall growth in enrollment. Combined, the two funding categories would provide school districts with nearly $200 million in new support in 2018-19.

CTE and PreK. The Regents' focus on career and technical education and expansion of prekindergarten opportunities also is shared by NYSSBA, as both issues are included in the Association's budget priorities. Both areas have seen recent attention and investments by policymakers, and NYSSBA hopes that will continue under the upcoming state budget.

Mental health. A new set of recommendations from NYSSBA would assist school districts as they pursue the goal of helping students deal with mental health and other health-related issues. Districts have expressed a desire to provide additional health services for their students, but they need a partner in the state to more effectively accomplish this goal. NYSSBA recommends making space for student health services eligible for building aid and creating a new type of reimbursement aid for the costs school districts incur when providing these services, after additional funding opportunities have been exhausted.

Other NYSSBA budget recommendations deal with funding methods for special act school districts, new ways for the state to meet its prior-year aid claims obligation and financial support to help struggling schools fulfill their improvement plans under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

In non-aid proposals, NYSSBA continues to advocate for reforms to the property tax cap, including the elimination of negative caps. NYSSBA also supports the creation of a reserve fund for TRS costs and improved representation and cooperation with Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) as they approve an increasing number of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deals across the state.

The 2018-19 Regents State Aid Proposal can be viewed here: goo.gl/wBCZD6 . NYSSBA's 2018-19 state budget recommendations can be viewed here: goo.gl/fvmJ8m .


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