With a tentative agreement on the 2014 state budget reached over the weekend, the New York State Legislature is expected to vote on the $140 billion budget this morning.
Last year’s vote took in excess of 13 hours, so we could be in for a long day before any announcement is made. Stay with us throughout the day for updates. You can follow us on Twitter, @edspeaksNY for the latest out of Albany.
Here’s what the education component of the budget looks like:
- School Aid: The Budget includes a $1.1 billion – or 5.3% – increase in education aid for the 2014-15 school year. High-needs school districts will receive nearly 70 percent of the 2014-15 allocated increase.
- Reform Common Core Implementation: The Budget puts into law a series of recommendations to immediately improve the implementation of the Common Core in New York State, including banning standardized “bubble tests” for young children, protecting students from high stakes testing based on unfair results, ensuring instructional time is used for teaching and learning and not over-testing, and protecting the privacy of students.
- Statewide Universal Full-Day Pre-Kindergarten: The Budget builds upon the success of the first-ever State-funded full-day pre-kindergarten program by committing to invest $1.5 billion over five years to support the phase-in of a Statewide Universal Full-Day Pre-Kindergarten program.
- Protect Charter Schools: The Budget increases tuition funding for charter school students over three years: $250 per student the first year, $350 the second, and $500 in the third. The Budget will also promote the growth of charter schools by addressing their facility needs. Charter schools will be eligible for Pre-K funding.
- Smart Schools: The Budget includes a $2 billion general obligation bond act. Bond proceeds will fund enhanced education technology in schools, with eligible projects including infrastructure improvements to bring high-speed broadband to schools and communities in their school district and the purchase of classroom technology for use by students. Additionally, Smart Schools will enable long-term investments in full-day pre-kindergarten through the construction of new pre-kindergarten classroom space, replace classroom trailers with permanent classroom space and make investments in high-tech school safety projects.
- $1.5 Billion in Property Tax Relief: The Budget includes a new Property Tax Credit to provide relief to New York homeowners and address one of the primary drivers of the State’s high property taxes – the outsized number of local governments. The property tax relief package is designed to incentivize local governments to share services and reduce their financial burden on the taxpayer. In the first year under the reform plan, New Yorkers will receive property tax relief if their local governments stay within the property tax cap. The property tax cuts will be extended for a second year in jurisdictions which comply with the tax cap and have put forward a plan to save 1 percent of their tax levy per year, over three years. While localities may offer a variety of approaches, the plan is designed to incentivize county governments to convene and facilitate a process and submit a county-wide plan for approval. Over three years, the program will result in over $1.5 billion in direct property tax relief for as many as 2.8 million taxpayers.
Headlines from around the state
Education is focus as state leaders agree on budget (Buffalo News)
ELFA Includes Common Core Changes (NY State of Politics)
State budget would boost education funds by $1.1B (NY Newsday)
Charters appear to get some help downstate, not so much outside of NYC (Capitol Confidential)
Check out this great editorial on the systematic defunding of public schools from Metroland. It focuses on the Albany City school district, but broadens into a discussion of the impact of the GEA on schools statewide.
Our favorite part: “Forcing further cuts and reorganizations on cash-strapped school districts, especially those serving overwhelming low-income populations, and then punishing them when those families with choices flee and those who remain struggle to thrive and learn (as measured by distinctly non–21st century style standardized testing regimes) is sick and twisted.”
Happy Pi Day! A lot to catch you up on from this week, including the Senate’s one house budget resolution coming in late last night. We’ll begin there.
The Senate’s resolution gives an additional $217 million over the Governor’s proposal to public schools, but it also gives $250 million more to charter and private schools.
Among the proposals outlined in the Senate’s resolution was a new property tax relief program, dubbed “Freeze Plus.” Here’s the language:
PART FF: The Senate modifies the Executive proposal to create a $1.4 billion Freeze Plus program that freezes property taxes for two years by making the property tax relief permanent. Schools will be eligible for this program in SFY 2014-15 while counties, cities, towns and villages will be eligible in SFY 2015-16. This makes all municipalities and schools eligible in their next fiscal year. Schools will receive $400 million in the first year, growing to $800 million thereafter. Municipalities will receive $200 million in their first year, and $400 million thereafter. In order for homeowners in their jurisdiction to receive the property tax relief in year two of the plan, school districts and local governments must continue to stay within the tax cap and must work towards continuing efficiencies previously adopted with new efficiency plans that may include consolidation and shared services. Municipalities and school districts will develop and implement structural budgetary efficiency plans for sharing or consolidating services that, when implemented, will achieve real savings for taxpayers. Local Governments with 50 employees or less will also be authorized to join municipal cooperative health benefit plans as a tool to achieve savings.
The Senate’s resolution calls for $2.7 billion in funding over five years for a universal pre-k and after-school programs in New York City ($540 million for 2014-15). According to Capital New York, the Senate’s plan also includes $145 million for pre-K expansion in the rest of the state during the next fiscal year, but the funding would be flexible, so schools could choose to use it for kindergarten or restore general state-aid cuts instead.
Moving on…Here’s the rest of your education headlines from the week.
Educators learn Common Core on the fly (Journal News)…Prekindergarten programs, teachers work to keep up with Common Core standards (Glens Falls Post Star)…Parents want to opt out of common core tests, Commissioner says ‘no’ (WTEN)
North Country schools are pushing for an end to school-aid cuts this year. (Plattsburgh Press Republican)
Unhappy with state school funding, AQE marches on Albany (Capitol Confidential)
South Glens Falls High School held their annual dance marathon and raised a record-setting $583,000 for 39 beneficiaries (Glens Falls Post Star)
On Wednesday, the Alliance for Quality Education took to the streets and held a rally at the Capitol, calling for the resurrection of their school’s programs, classes and resources that have been cut over the last five years.
Participants delivered this petition, signed by 14,000 New Yorkers, to Governor Cuomo’s office. The petition calls on Cuomo to support all students, not just the 3 percent who attend privately run charter schools. Last week, Cuomo attended a charter school rally in Albany, vowing to “save charter schools,” and ensure that they have the “financial capacity and physical space and government support to thrive and to grow.”
The AQE is calling for a $1.9 billion increase in school aid this year, which they say will prevent more cuts to schools this year and will get the state back on track with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In February, the AQE along with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project of the Education Law Center, toured 14 school districts across the state, gathering evidence of the systematic underfunding of schools.
“Governor Cuomo has ignored the cries for help from New York’s public schools,” Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education Billy Easton said. “Enough is enough.”
“Governor Cuomo has called education the Civil Rights issue of our day, and I could not agree with him more,” Superintendent of Schenectady City School District Dr. Laurence Spring said. “Too many school districts are being underfunded to the point of denying students the very basic services that they need.”
With the two houses of the state legislature preparing their education budgets, the AQE and CFE are preparing for a potential school funding lawsuit if the state does not live up to its constitutional obligation this year.
That was the message delivered to almost 250 school board members, school employees, residents and students at the Fight for Our Valley Schools education rally sponsored by Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES on Thursday, March 6, at Herkimer College. Statewide School Finance Consortium Executive Director Rick Timbs, Herkimer Central School District Board of Education Vice-President Robert Mihevc and Herkimer Student Council President Daniel Adamek each delivered an impassioned message to the crowd painting a factual, but bleak picture of the plight facing the area’s schools.
“The truth is: You’re getting the short end of the stick,” Timbs told the audience.
Mihevc emceed the evening, welcoming attendees, introducing guests and offering his perspective of how state funding has negatively impacted his home district.
Throughout the evening, attendees texted friends and tweeted their support of the initiative.
After the event, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney spoke with many to listen to their concerns and to also encourage their involvement.
Numbers speak volumes
Timbs spoke for more than one hour, delivering a data-packed presentation that explained how New York’s school funding process deprives poorer schools of much-needed money while continuing to supplement the already strong academic and extracurricular programs of wealthier districts.
The problem begins with the simple fact that the Valley’s school districts lack the resources necessary to support their schools, he said. Using the state’s measure of a district’s wealth, the average New York school district is 1.1 times wealthier than Poland, the area’s wealthiest district, and 2.7 times wealthier than Central Valley, the area’s poorest district. He shocked the audience when he revealed that one New York school district is 52 times wealthier than the state average, making it more than 100 times wealthier than the average school in the Herkimer BOCES. Without sufficient resources to fully support their own schools, local districts rely more heavily on state aid than the average state school.
So, when the state began cutting school aid in 2009-10 to close the state’s budget deficit, it hurt Valley schools and its students worse than the average school. These cuts, known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment or GEA, have totaled $42.1 million dollars over four years to the 10 Herkimer BOCES component school districts.
“If there wasn’t a GEA – if there wasn’t a cut – life would be a lot easier in schools,” Timbs said.
Timbs noted that the GEA hurts poorer schools more than it hurts wealthier schools because poorer districts lack a property tax base to make up for lost revenue. His data reveals that area schools would have to raise property taxes by 5 to 13 percent to offset revenue lost under the 2014-15 projected GEA, while wealthy districts would only need to raise taxes by less than 1 percent.
He also refuted claims that the schools will get more state aid than in past years as the state reduces the GEA. He explained that districts will receive more aid than last year, but still not as much as they were promised four years ago. According to Timbs, even the GEA restoration plan penalizes poorer districts. In 2013-14, the poorest districts received an additional $83 per pupil while the wealthiest districts received $220 per pupil.
Unable to further burden local taxpayers, local school districts have cut staff and program and spent their savings. He warned that districts can cut the same teacher once or spend their savings once; schools are running out of options.
Repeatedly, he asked the crowd if they were beginning to see a pattern.
More than state aid and the GEA
Timbs said two other state initiatives are crippling schools.
The tax levy limit, mistakenly called the 2 percent tax cap, takes even more money from Herkimer BOCES school districts.
“None of the districts in this auditorium can raise their budgets more than 1 percent and still stay within the (2014-15) 1.46 percent tax levy limit,” he said.
He also decried the unfairness of the STAR property tax exemption saying that the state has increased the exemption in wealthy districts. The increase lowers the taxes of those living in the state’s wealthier communities, despite the fact that these communities enjoy high incomes and schools with broad academic and extracurricular programs.
A call to action
Timbs closed by encouraging everyone to ask elected officials to end the GEA and to develop a school funding plan that ensures students in all areas of the state, regardless of community wealth, of the high quality education they deserve.
Herkimer High School Student Council President Daniel Adamek took the microphone to present a student perspective on school funding. During a special summer program in Vermont, he had the opportunity to meet with students from throughout New England. Those conversations led him to fully realize how little his school could offer compared to other schools.
He stood before the audience and recorded a brief video of himself saying, “Governor Cuomo, my name is Dan Adamek, and I have a message for you.” Then, he turned the video camera toward the audience who chanted in unison, “Save our schools, save our schools!”
He invited everyone to visit a newly launched, student-run website Students for Fair Funding at www.fairfundingny.webs.com.
“We must tell our government that quality education is a human right – not a privilege reserved for the rich,” Adamek said.
Click here to visit the Herkimer BOCES website and learn more about advocacy efforts that you can get involved in.
Another day, another cold morning. Looks like our temperatures are creeping up a little bit this weekend though. Silver lining, folks. Here’s your Rundown from the last week.
State Assembly Votes on Common Core Changes
- Assembly moving toward delaying parts of Common Core (NY Daily News – Subscription required)
- Assembly votes for Common Core changes (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)
- NY Assembly votes to delay impact of Common Core tests on students, teachers (Syracuse Post Standard)
- Two-year Common Core delay bill passes Assembly (Auburn Citizen)
- Assembly approves a Common Core delay (Capital NY)
- NYSUT lauds Assembly for Common Core moratorium (Capitol Confidential)
Common Core: Aspiring teachers face certification hurdles (Journal News)
Cuomo TV ad pushes his Common Core stance (NY Daily News – Subscription required)
Money alone won’t solve the problems of New York’s schools (Buffalo News)
State’s budget gimmick is hindering schools (Hint: Three simple letters) (Oneonta Daily Star)
Cuomo Vows to Defend Charter Schools, Setting Up Another Battle With de Blasio (NY Times)…Fred LeBrun: Governor’s charter school baloney blitz (Albany Times Union)…Editorial: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s charter support is a win for kids (NY NewsDay – Subscription required)
College Board Shakes Up SAT (Wall Street Journal)…New SAT should reflect Common Core, standard classroom work (Journal News)
Coverage of Herkimer Regional Advocacy Forum
- Rallying for better education funding in the Valley (WKTV)
- Students Fight for Education Funding (WUTR)
- Community rallies to help Valley schools (Utica Observer Dispatch)
- ‘Fight For Our Valley Schools’ Rally Held (WIBX)
Tonight, school leaders, boards of education and community advocacy groups from districts in Herkimer, Fulton, Hamilton and Otsego counties, will participate in a regional advocacy event called “Fight for Our Valley Schools.”
The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Herkimer College’s Robert McLaughlin College Center.
The event features guest speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, who will explain how the state’s current funding formula is depriving the area’s students of the high quality education they deserve. Since the GEA’s inception, the state has withheld almost $43.7 million from the 10 component schools that make up Herkimer BOCES.
If you cannot attend in person, you can follow the event’s official Twitter account: @herkimerboces, or keep an eye on our Twitter account, @edspeaksNY, as we’ll be re-tweeting some of the highlights from the event.
During the week of February 24-28th, the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center, visited 14 school districts across the state to begin documenting educational resource deficiencies resulting from the state’s failure to meet its obligations under the New York State Constitution.
In a press conference yesterday afternoon, the two organizations released their findings, explaining that they found “substantial and compelling evidence” of failure by Gov. Cuomo and the legislature to provide the resources necessary for all students to receive a “sound, basic education,” as guaranteed by the New York constitution.
“Despite often extraordinary efforts by local school leaders and educators the State’s failure to provide adequate educational resources has impeded districts’ ability to provide all students a “sound, basic education,” a statement from AQE and CFE said.
From western New York to Long Island, AQE and CFE met with superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents who shared evidence regarding the educational impacts of the state’s under-funding of their schools. Among their findings:
- Class sizes have risen to over 25 and in some cases over 30.
- All of the school districts have cut staff in some cases as much as 20% — despite the fact that in many districts student enrollment has actually grown.
- Some of the most dramatic cuts have been to academic interventions for students not performing at grade level including severe cuts to summer school and to state mandated tutoring.
- School libraries have been closed, cut hours or have no librarians.
- Guidance counselors are substantially overloaded and there is a shortage of social workers and school psychologists.
- Some elementary schools offer no art or no music, foreign languages and elective courses have all been cut—with some districts replacing academic courses with study halls.
“The State’s school funding cuts are causing severe educational harm to New York’s school children, especially in high need, underfunded city and rural districts” Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity David Sciarra said. “The resource deficits in some districts are so palpably inadequate as to deprive children of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.”
With the two houses of the state legislature preparing their education budgets – to be voted on March 12 – AQE and CFE are preparing for a potential school funding lawsuit if the state does not live up to its constitutional obligation this year.
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES will sponsor a rally for education at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 6, at Herkimer College’s Robert McLaughlin College Center.
“Fight for Our Valley Schools” features guest speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, who will explain how the state’s current funding formula is depriving the area’s students of the high quality education they deserve.
“Herkimer BOCES is sponsoring this event to focus our residents’ attention on the simple fact that our schools are forced to make do with fewer resources than more affluent schools in New York state,” Herkimer BOCES District Superintendent Mark Vivacqua said. “Fewer resources translate into fewer opportunities for our valley’s children. Our kids deserve better.”
The core of Timbs’ message is that the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) has unfairly penalized the area’s students. The GEA was introduced by Gov. David Paterson in 2009-10 as a temporary cut in promised school aid in an effort to help the state close its budget deficit. Five years later, the state’s deficit has disappeared according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but the GEA continues to withhold millions of dollars in promised aid.
Since the GEA’s inception, the state has withheld almost $43.7 million from the 10 component schools that make up Herkimer BOCES.
“We are hoping that the presentation will help area residents understand the inequity of school aid and that the current funding formula and the GEA are forcing districts to cut important academic and co-curricular programs,” Vivacqua said. “We also hope that our event will rally residents to contact their legislators at the local and state levels to push for a school funding plan that does not penalize a child because of where he or she lives.”
In late January, thousands of concerned parents, educators, taxpayers and community members attended a major advocacy event in the Capital Region. Together, they made enough noise to catch the ears of New York State legislators in Albany. Similar events have been held this school year in the Mid-Hudson and Central New York regions.
If you are planning on attending the rally on March 6, you can connect with us on social media that night and tell us what is happening from your perspective. Tweet us your photos and updates – @edspeaksny.
Ed Speaks has a number of advocacy resources available for you. Check them out here.