Advocacy Update: Petition Bill passed by both houses
March 5, 2021
This month NYSSBA championed a bill related to the number of signatures needed for school board election petitions. The bill passed both houses and through conversations with executive staff we are optimistic that the Governor's office is likely to sign it into law when delivered.
The bill would adjust the number of signatures potential school board candidates must collect to run for positions in 2021; lowering the amount to pre-pandemic levels. Thresholds would also be lowered for small city and other city districts. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a number of changes to the 2020 school budget vote and board election process. Notably, absentee ballots were automatically sent to all eligible school district voters which caused a record turnout for nearly all school districts. This directly impacts how the school board election process will work in 2021. Currently, those interested in running for school board must collect the greater of 25 signatures or two percent of the previous year's vote total. Because of the higher turnout last year, 2021 would be three or four times higher than in a 'normal' year. Given the challenges associated with the pandemic and the desire to reduce direct social interaction it makes sense to adjust the signature requirements.
Legislature set to restrict the Governor's emergency powers
Both houses of the New York State legislature came to an agreement this week that would restrict the emergency powers granted to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the agreement, there is an automatic 30 day extension of all the policies passed under the Governor's emergency powers. There are two pertinent issues that impact school districts that were previously addressed by the Governor's emergency powers; the ability to request absentee ballots due to potential exposure to COVID-19 and the ability of local government bodies to meet virtually.
In addition, NYSSBA hopes that local government bodies, including school districts, are allowed to continue to meet remotely during the declared disaster emergency. NYSSBA has and will continue to advocate for this policy to remain in effect past the expiration of the Governor's powers.
Dr. Miguel Cardona confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education
Monday, March 1, the United States Senate confirmed Dr. Miguel Cardona, formerly Connecticut Commissioner of Education, to be U.S. Secretary of Education. In a letter to the education community, Secretary Cardona stated, "In addition to helping you create conditions in which students can safely return to the classroom, we'll work to close the large funding gap between majority-white and non-white districts, improve teacher diversity, ensure teachers receive the support and respect they need and deserve, expand access to high-quality preschool, and support high-quality career and technical education." NYSSBA looks forward to working with Secretary Cardona as he takes on these and other challenges during this unprecedented time.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
On February 25, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands. It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.
Under the law, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will be open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
Federal COVID Aid still in-progress
After passage by the U.S. House of Representatives, the $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus relief package has made its way to the Senate and has been the subject of significant debate. We are continuing to track the details and specifics related to school funding. For those that have not yet done so, we invite you to Take Action by reaching out to your federal representatives. Simply click on the link below and follow the prompts. You are welcome to share these letters with members of your community.
ECB 2021-22 Executive Budget Reaction
NYSSBA, along with our Educational Conference Board (ECB) partners, has released our annual Executive Budget Reaction Paper. While we are unable to host our annual in-person press conference, the ECB will be hosting a zoom session with legislators and their staff to discuss the paper and our positions. For those interested in reviewing the paper, you can find it here:
NYSSBA's Governmental Relations team will continue to report on these and other issues. For more information, visit our Key Issues Page.
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