BUDGET ISSUES AND VETERAN’S EXEMPTION
January 27, 2014
GOVERNOR’S STATE BUDGET PLAN FALLS FAR SHORT OF NEED
Governor Andrew Cuomo today released his Executive Budget proposal, calling for a 3.1 % increase in school spending, amounting to $608 million in direct aid. Total school spending would increase from $21.1 billion to $21.9 billion, with the remainder of funding directed pre-k and teacher bonuses. $285 million of the increase would go to reimburse school districts for money already spent on BOCES, transportation, special education and school construction. The remaining funds would be divided between funds used to reduce the Gap Elimination Adjustment ($323 million), pre-k and bonuses. No funds would be allocated for a Foundation Aid increase. Perhaps in an attempt to mitigate the outcry from a proposal deemed far short of educational needs by virtually every statewide educational organization, the governor presented his school aid in a two year budget plan. Under the proposal the second year would see a 3.9% aid increase, for a two year total of $1.3 billion. Ironically, $1.3 billion is the amount needed in one year, according to the Board of Regents, with several other groups claiming an even greater need. Added to the school aid over two years would be $75 million for teacher bonuses and programs such as P-Tech. An additional $100 million would be directed to pre-k in the current budget. This would be the first installment in a $1.5 billion, five year implementation of a plan to provide fully state funded universal full day pre-k to every school district that requests it.
The governor offered several education related initiatives outside of direct aid. As mentioned in the State of the State message, the Executive Budget includes property tax relief for local homeowners. However, it is not structured as most school officials expected. School districts will be combined with all municipal entities within a county (all school districts, the county itself, towns, villages, fire districts, etc.) and provided the entire aggregate county figure is below the 2% tax cap, property taxpayers would have their increase paid for by the state. In subsequent years, each county group would not only have to remain below the tax cap, but also have the state approve a plan to save at least 1% of their tax levy for each of three years.
Governor Cuomo addressed concern over Common Core implementation by calling for a joint legislative and executive commission to recommend legislative direction on issues like student testing. In his presentation, Cuomo touted the current teacher evaluation system and echoed the accepted position of the education commissioner and Senate Education Committee chair that students in kindergarten through second grade not be subjected to non-diagnostic “bubble” tests. Language to actually empanel the governor’s Common Core review commission was not included in the proposed budget language, indicating that it may be done unilaterally by executive order.
The governor also threw his support behind a $2 billion statewide ballot proposition that would provide funding for broadband access to schools, smartboards, tablets for students and pre-k and afterschool program construction projects. According to the governor, the bond act funding would be distributed according to the existing school aid formula.
The Executive Budget once again proposes the special education mandate relief that was rejected by the legislature last year. The budget would create a new waiver process allowing school districts and BOCES to petition the State Education Department for flexibility in complying with non-federal mandates.
The governor includes a proposal to allow school districts seeking to merge with the option to delay for one year or phase in for up to ten years, adjustments to tax rates in the participating school districts. According to the governor, this would prevent large one time fluctuations in tax rates, removing this issue as a barrier to school district mergers.
Finally, the Executive Budget would subject schools to the jurisdiction of the state Division of Human Rights. By court order, only private schools have been subject to DHR jurisdiction to date. If accepted by the legislature, complaints of discrimination would be investigated by DHR, rather than being handled internally by school districts.
The Regents State Aid Proposal pegged school spending needs for 2014-15 at $1.3 billion. The Educational Conference Board (comprised of the major statewide education associations, including NYSSBA) determined that $1.5 billion in new state aid would be needed for school districts to meet the requirements of the tax levy cap without gutting educational programs and services. Less than two weeks ago, in a bipartisan effort, 80 members of the State Assembly and Senate joined together to call for an additional $1.9 billion in state education spending this year. By any measure, the Executive Budget proposal falls dramatically short of expectation and need. Claiming the calls for significant increases “propaganda”, Cuomo’s proposal attempts to accomplish a seemingly incongruous result: Simultaneously claim that there is a state surplus and continue to withhold school funding purportedly intended to reduce a state deficit. When the governor’s teacher bonus initiative is eliminated, along with pre-k funding, schools are left with only an increase of $285 million to reimburse them for funds already expended, as well as $323 million in GEA reduction. It boggles the mind to consider how one creates a state surplus by withholding over $1.3 billion in funding legally owed the schools. One would expect that in an election year, Governor Cuomo has conveniently left it up to the legislature to fight for the desperately needed additional aid. Given that the governor included legislative ethics reform and public campaign financing in the budget, one would surmise that he intends to trade school aid increases for previously rejected initiatives.
The governor’s property tax relief proposal cannot work, given his school aid figures. Simply put, with a tax levy cap set at roughly 1.5%, school districts need significant new state aid to stay below the tax levy cap. Since school taxes form about two thirds of all property tax, schools’ inability to stay below the cap will preclude counties from meeting the requirements of the property tax relief proposal. The governor knows that most districts have stayed below the tax levy cap and those that have not have largely been met with voter rejection. Providing an amount insufficient to pay for current programs (let alone implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards) will doom the property tax relief program and school spending will be blamed as the cause. The community pressure to cut programs and services to stay below the cap will be severe.
The $2 billion technology bond proposition is formed on even shakier ground. Highly populated areas are already served by broadband access and most computer hardware needed. Their voters are unlikely to support 20 or 30 year borrowing to pay for tablets and other short lived computer equipment. Add in the costs of building to pay for pre-k and after school programs and voters are highly unlikely to support a long term borrowing to pay for activities outside the school day. Indeed, there is a question as to whether bondholders would authorize long term obligations for computer equipment purchases.
The governor’s complete lack of new mandate relief initiatives is certainly discouraging. His Executive Budget has the potential to place extreme financial pressure on school districts without the ability to reduce costs outside of laying off staff. When combined with an inadequate aid proposal, this plan spells a return to fiscal austerity for schools. The rhetoric of the need for world class schools of little more than a week ago rings hollow when supported by such an anemic aid proposal. Perhaps the governor is simply allowing legislators who must also face voters next fall the opportunity to save the day with substantial aid increases. Yet, taken at face value, the Executive Budget has no plan for addressing the inadequacies of the current funding approach, no plan for legitimately relieving local taxpayers of the burden of school costs and no plan for eliminating the GEA. The governor continues to hang his hat on the total average amount spent per student in the state, without mentioning that the state’s share of that amount has plummeted in recent years and there are unconscionable disparities in how those amounts are distributed. Support for educational technology seems to hinge on the public’s willingness to vote for long term debt to pay for current expenses. He attaches his plans for pre-k and after school programs to the success of yet to be constructed casinos. His plan to make pre-k universal ignores the likelihood that kindergarten may need to be cut as a result of his funding proposal. In fact, the governor’s plan freezes the existing pre-k formula. Similarly, support for pre-k and after school programs would likely hinge on school district confidence in long term state funding. This proposal would certainly make such confidence appear tenuous at best. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that he continues to propose new educational spending initiatives without even acknowledging a school spending scheme that is systematically withholding promised funds, resulting in the dismantling of programs that already exist. The proposal repeatedly touts the fact that there is a $2 billion surplus. Yet, the very chart behind the governor as he refers to the state’s fiscal condition shows that this surplus may actually arrive three years from now, in 2017. At this rate, the world class schools of the governor’s aspirations may be unreachable.
While silent in the State of the State Address regarding the Common Core implementation, the governor proposes to empanel experts and legislative representatives to ferret out appropriate remedial legislative actions. This virtually precludes the legislature from proceeding on its own, as this would appear premature. It presents an obstacle to current legislation intended to address public concerns and is perhaps an expression of the governor’s opposition to a moratorium on his signature teacher accountability system. What emerges most glaring from the Executive Budget is a plan designed to urge legislative action on policy issues outside of public education. Reluctant legislators in desperate need of increases school aid back home may well find a willing partner in the governor. Underfunding schools in the Executive Budget virtually assures a legislative demand for an increase in the final state budget. The price for that increase could be the legislative ethics reform long sought by the governor. The result is that school districts will need to advocate strongly for the needed increases with their local legislators.
Statement of Timothy G. Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association, on the 2014-2015 State Budget Proposal
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an austere budget for schools.
While the governor’s budget contains many laudable issues such as state-funded universal prekindergarten and after-school programs, his state aid allocation falls way short of the mark.
The Educational Conference Board - of which NYSSBA is a member - recently reported that schools would need a minimum state aid increase of $1.5 billion just to maintain current programs. The state Board of Regents requested an increase of $1.3 billion.
Under the governor’s proposed $807 million increase, schools will be unable to continue current programs and services without exceeding the tax cap. That, of course, would run counter to the governor’s efforts to reimburse taxpayers for staying within the cap.
We appreciate the governor’s leadership in putting forward a $2 billion proposal for technology and capital costs associated with full-day prekindergarten expansion, but hope that the Legislature will increase the state’s investment in general support for public schools.
STATE AID BY CATEGORY
|Aid Category||2013-14||2014-15||$ Change from 2013-14 to 2014-15||% Change from 2013-14 to 2014-15|
|Charter school transitional aid||$33,133,175||$29,243,872||-$3,889,303||-11.7%|
|High Tax Aid||$223,298,324||$223,298,324||$0||0.0%|
|Operating reorg incentive aid||$8,483,856||$8,198,195||-$285,661||-3.4%|
|Academic enhancement aid||$27,024,033||$27,024,033||$0||0.0%|
|Transportation aid including Summer||$1,635,691,029||$1,724,985,439||$89,294,410||5.5%|
|Public excess high cost aid||$530,317,053||$547,089,802||$16,772,749||3.2%|
|Private excess cost aid||$330,934,257||$372,338,650||$41,404,393||12.5%|
|Supplemental public excess cost aid||$4,313,167||$4,313,167||$0||0.0%|
|Software, library materials and textbook aid||$241,789,795||$246,233,935||$4,444,140||1.8%|
|Hardware and technology aid||$37,630,237||$38,617,447||$987,210||2.6%|
|Full-day K conversion||$19,318,401||$2,353,772||-$16,964,629||-87.8%|
|Universal pre-K aid||$385,034,734||$385,034,734||$0||0.0%|
|Gap Elimination Adjustment||-$1,638,788,735||-$1,315,484,748||$323,303,987||-19.7%|
|Total Aid w/o building and building reorg||$17,954,852,786||$18,441,205,238||$486,352,452||2.7%|
|Building aid and building reorg incentive aid||$2,722,641,352||$2,839,108,648||$116,467,296||4.3%|
|Total Aid w/ building and building reorg||$20,677,494,138||$21,280,313,886||$602,819,748||2.9%|
|red = General Purpose Aids|
|green = Expense-Based Aids|
|purple = Other Aids|
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