NYSSBA, allies call for $2B school aid increase $1.5B needed to maintain current programming

by Brian Fessler

On Board Online • December 11, 2017

By Brian Fessler
Deputy Director of Governmental Relations

A coalition of state education groups including NYSSBA is calling for an increase in school aid of $2 billion over 2017-18 funding levels.

The Educational Conference Board, or ECB, is comprised of seven leading educational organizations representing parents, classroom teachers, school-related professionals, building administrators, superintendents and school boards.

The ECB estimated the cost of maintaining current school programs and services by using objective, third-party projections (many from the state Division of Budget). The calculation includes employee salaries, health care costs and inflationary increases, as well as initial employer contribution figures recently released by the Teachers' Retirement System. The latter alone may result in a statewide cost increase of nearly $200 million for school districts.

The ECB estimates that overall school spending would need to increase $1.9 billion, or about 2.8 percent, just to maintain current programming.

With a tax cap growth factor likely to be at or near the 2 percent limit for 2018-19, school districts that levy taxes would be limited in their ability to raise additional revenue locally - $400 million, assuming voter approval. To obtain the full $1.9 billion needed to maintain current services, the ECB is asking the state to provide the remaining $1.5 billion, through school aid.

The ECB also requests $500 million for targeted initiatives, bringing the total request to about $2 billion. That funding would be used to increase investment and support in five key areas: schools in receivership, professional development for teachers and staff, English language learners (ELLs), college and career pathways and districts with growing enrollments.

In addition, the ECB is calling for the Legislature and the governor to focus on two school finance policy priorities:

1. Full funding of foundation aid. The state should commit to a plan to fully fund foundation aid within three years. Recent data from the State Education Department shows that heading into 2018-19, the state is $4.2 billion behind full phase-in of foundation aid. All districts should receive additional foundation aid in recognition of rising costs and student needs in schools across the state.

ECB also recommends a number of reforms and updates to the foundation aid formula to take into account local conditions involving poverty, students with disabilities, ELLs, regional cost factors and district wealth. They also suggest the state should conduct a new study to determine the up-to-date cost of educating a student. The current methodology dates back to 2007, when the formula was originally adopted. Since then, school districts have been faced with a property tax cap, new learning standards and additional requirements for ELLs.

2. Property tax cap changes. Continuing efforts made by ECB following their release of a paper on the tax cap in 2015, suggested reforms include a minimum tax cap growth factor of 2 percent as well as the elimination of both negative tax caps and the zero percent tax levy limit under contingent budgets. The group also reiterated its support for two pieces of legislation passed by both the Senate and the Assembly this year, dealing with the exclusion of the local share of BOCES capital costs and including properties covered by payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements in the formula's tax base growth factor.

The ECB released their paper in advance of the Board of Regents' own school aid proposal, anticipated to be adopted during the Regents' meeting in Albany December 11-12. The deadline for Gov. Cuomo to submit his executive budget proposal is Jan. 16.

The Educational Conference Board's school finance paper can be viewed here: goo.gl/rJ49jv .

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