2014 LEGISLATIVE SESSION WRAPS UP – ADVOCACY ALERT
June 21, 2014
2014 LEGISLATIVE SESSION WRAPS UP
POSITIVE YEAR FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION
Beginning in late March, when the state budget included twice the state education aid “allowed” under law, the legislative session was both challenging and productive for public education. The state approved one of the largest aid increases in state history, coming out of the largest economic recession in the past 50 years. It was distributed in a way that recognized the individual economic circumstances of school districts. The budget was also notable for holding districts harmless from charter aid increases, placing a moratorium on the Building Aid recalculation, giving the state comptroller authority to audit charter schools, allowing EBALR funds to be used for programs, allowing transportation contracts to be done using RFPs and not full competitive bids, rejection of making the tax cap permanent, rejection of the Family Medical Leave Act and shifting school disciplinary authority to the Division of Human Rights. New reporting requirements related to the Dignity for All Students Act was successfully rejected and homeowners were provided rebates for all districts that stayed below the tax levy cap. Common Core adjustments in testing were authorized and the Smart Schools Bond Act, with its potential for pre-k and technology funding, was authorized for a public vote this coming November. Taken in total, the legislative session was a tremendous victory for public education generally and school board influence in particular.
The post budget session of an election year is typically challenging, as legislators and the governor position themselves politically by advancing legislation intended to address publicly popular issues and constituencies (sometimes at the expense of sound school district operation.) Rather than being an exception, 2014 exemplified the phenomenon. Curriculum mandate ideas were rampant. Legislation advancing the interests of labor unions and their members abounded. What seemed like a legislative tsunami fueled by popular public opinion (rather than good governance) washed over school boards and their advocates for three months, ending only today.
Through your tireless efforts, those of your NYSSBA advocates and our partners, the challenge was met with reasoned discourse, good local examples of the potential ramifications of proposals and personal contact with key legislators and staff. It worked.
Legislation to divert $300 million in potential education revenue to tuition tax credits was defeated, preventing the state from shifting away from its public school funding responsibilities.\
Authority of school districts to use lever voting machines was extended for one final year and the state will be required to complete a study of how to assist school districts in securing the soon to be required optical scan voting machines. NYSSBA worked with the Conference of Mayors, NYSUT, the Council of School Superintendents and others to secure this third and final extension of authority.
One of NYSSBA’s most comprehensive advocacy efforts was once again directed at defeating legislation to expand out of school special education placements. Legislative sponsors of the bill claimed that it merely codified federal law and had been pared down to affect only New York City, but even those requesting the bill acknowledged the expanded rights of parents to secure tuition reimbursement for placements deemed inappropriate by Committees on Special Education. For the third year in a row, the educational community united in an intense expression of opposition. The bill failed to muster the needed votes in the Assembly and the bill never came to the floor for a vote in that house. Instead, the New York City Department of Education will take it upon itself to work directly with parents to more promptly pay the appropriate tuition reimbursements, as urged by NYSSBA.
We were also successful in having a number of other onerous bills rejected by the legislature, including an expansion of seniority rights for non instructional staff, the ability of promoted staff to “bump” lower ranked staff in the event of a layoff, a new restriction that schools hire only the top scoring candidate on a civil service exam, legislation to prevent schools from requesting the disclosure of personal internet account passwords and another to provide 3020-a protections to all non-instructional staff. We were also successful in urging the legislature to reject mandated leave for cancer screening for all staff and in thwarting efforts to impose the costs of closing down special act school districts on the nearest BOCES and its component districts. Legislation by the Office of the State Comptroller to force districts to disclose the amounts contained in reserve funds to the public was rejected, based on NYSSBA opposition, as was legislation allowing the education commissioner to remove entire boards of education.
A number of bills to help school districts were passed by both houses, including the elimination of the annual requirement that school boards visually inspect all school facilities, elimination of duplicative criminal background checks for transportation staff, continuation of authority of BOCES to provide out of state services, allowing BOCES to lease space on a long term basis, providing professional development to out of state educators, allowing students to self-administer medication when authorized by a physician and parents and legislation to create an online learning advisory council. We secured legislation to allow schools to charge back tax certiorari payments to public libraries when appropriate. We were also successful in helping individual districts with legislation ranging from Phase 2 of the Rochester School Construction Project, to allowing Utica and Buffalo schools to require students to attend kindergarten (with the ability of parents to opt out.)
We also made substantial headway in passing legislation to include all threats of mass violence against a school as a felony, as the chair of the Assembly Codes Committee agreed to sponsor the bill and the Senate Codes Committee chair expressed support. This is remarkable headway in a bill’s first session and it is now positioned for consideration early next year.
One of our proudest moments came late in the session when the state finally agreed to grant a cost increase of 3.8% to our special act districts (helping to alleviate the harm caused by years of deprivation; which has led to the closure of several schools.) In addition, legislation was introduced to add a permanent growth index to the tuition rate.
In prior years, we have categorized bills by those we successfully advocated for, those we prevented from harming school districts and those that (despite best efforts) we failed to prevent. This year, we need a new category of those bills that (while imposing new requirements on our schools) were made dramatically better through advocacy efforts; including extensive negotiation of the state’s entrance into the Interstate Military Compact, (authorizing, rather than requiring) schools to administer epi pens when appropriate, allowing (rather than requiring) schools to release staff who are emergency responders during a declared emergency and legislation regulating the use of job order contracts (which are much more limited than originally proposed, which leaves schools with more flexibility in letting contracts.) In addition, a proposal to remove test scores from local APPR agreements was modified to simply place a two year hold on consequences for educators with low ratings associated with the state 3-8 grade assessments. We hope this avowed “reset” spells the end of local discord and ushers in a renewed focus on bringing kids to greater achievement.
Also within this category are new bills passed by both houses that reflect the legislature’s acknowledgment of the need for local control. Rather than mandating CPR instruction for all students and a new curriculum on heroin/ opiate abuse, the legislature passed bills that require the education commissioner to do a study that is submitted to the Board of Regents on whether these subjects should be included in the curriculum. Finally, there are bills that began life having statewide implications, but ended up as having only a local impact, including a bill to require schools in Nassau and Suffolk Counties to use only licensed electricians and plumbers if their host municipalities require it and another that imposes employee protections in New York City transportation contracts.
The end of the legislative session always seems to include the disappointment of lost potential; those bills that we couldn’t get through both houses, despite our best efforts (including the legislature and governor ignoring their promise of significant new mandate relief to help restrain school district costs. Hopefully ideas like capping district health care costs and eliminating automatic salary increases will fare better in a non-election year.) The, there are those bills we just can’t derail, like the bill to give a state armory to a private corporation with plans to start a charter school, instead of to Freeport. (We secured a veto of this bill last year and hope to have similar success this year.)
One of the legislature’s last acts was to determine the bulleted aid provided to individual school districts. Most of these allocations were in the $30,000 to $75,000 range, with some awards to large urban districts reaching $1 million.
To view the list of grants:
Shortly, your NYSSBA Governmental Relations team will provide you with a complete listing of legislative efforts for 2014. You’ll be able to see results for the NYSSBA legislative priorities, bills that we were successful in opposing and those that passed despite our best efforts. The legislative session is over, but the work continues. We will seek vetoes of legislation that we oppose on your behalf. This is usually a highly successful aspect of our advocacy. That said, there is little question that the 2014 legislative session was a watershed year in the way the state legislature addresses public educational issues. Significant assistance without attaching strings reflects a long awaited recognition of the impact of mandates on school district operations and we commend the legislature for their responsiveness to your calls for help. State leaders did not come to this position without your steadfast efforts and those of your NYSSBA team. There is work left to be done and as always, we need to prepare for next year, when we need to launch a renewed, all-out offensive on the Gap Elimination Adjustment. But thanks to our combined advocacy efforts, 2014 will be remembered for its newfound influence of school board members in shaping public educational policy!