In December, the New York State Board of Regents is expected to approve a State Aid Proposal for 2014-15, which it does annually prior to the release of the Executive Budget Proposal and the subsequent negotiations between the governor and the legislature.
The Regents State Aid proposal is not binding; it includes recommendations for lawmakers that are designed to reflect the priorities of the Board of Regents, which sets educational policy in New York. The Regents’ top priority is its ambitious education reform agenda – the set of initiatives it has called on New York’s schools to implement with urgency to prepare students for college and careers.
The reform agenda includes the new, rigorous Common Core Learning Standards, and the related initiatives of the new teacher and principal evaluation system, new student assessments, the effective use of student data, and turning around low performing schools.
“Given the challenges faced by school districts, what level of support should be included in the state aid proposal?” asks a state Education Department memo written to frame the Regents’ Subcommittee on State Aid’s discussion at its November meeting.
That question – how much funding to request for New York’s schools– will be answered when the Regents approve a State Aid Proposal at their December 16-17 meeting. Many school leaders and public school advocates believe they know the answer: More. Additional aid is needed, they say, if the state’s schools are going to successfully implement the sweeping changes that are required of them.
“The rule in life is you can have anything you want, as long as you’re willing to pay for it,” said Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium. “I really expect the Board of Regents to come up with one great state aid plan this year to pay for the new standards and nothing short of it will do. They have to stand up with the rest of us.” Timbs was speaking at an October symposium on school finance held at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. (Ed Speaks was at this event. You can read our rundown here.)
At its November meeting, the Regents Subcommittee on State Aid discussed the overall school funding level it would request for 2014-15. “We spent the better part of our meeting talking about how we can make longer, multi-year investments in important areas like early childhood education, professional development and the like,” said Regent James R. Tallon Jr., who chairs the subcommittee.
More than half of 250 superintendents surveyed last fall by the New York State Council of School Superintendents said that professional development opportunities for teachers had been reduced as the result of the fiscal challenges facing schools, including the loss of aid. Many educational leaders see training to help current teachers incorporate the Common Core standards into their classrooms as essential if the effort is going to work.
That point was made at a series of hearings on education reform held this fall by the state Senate Education Committee.
“We must ensure sufficient and equitable state and federal funding so that all teachers in all school districts have the tools, materials, technology, and professional development to help all students meet the standards,” Linda Hoffman, a member of the Erie2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES Board of Education, told the Education Committee.
The current state budget included a $942 million increase in funding for schools, which actually surpassed the Regent’s 2013-14 recommendation by about $230 million.
The 4.7 percent increase (excluding new pools of grant money) also exceeded the state’s personal income growth index, which was expected to represent a cap on the state aid increase – a fact that was noted in the Education Department’s November memo framing the state aid proposal for next year.
The memo also states that despite the increase in funding for schools, a $1.6 million Gap Elimination Adjustment remained in the state budget. The Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, is the mechanism the state uses to withhold promised money from schools to address its own fiscal challenges and support other budget priorities.
Due to the GEA, many school districts are receiving less state aid in the current year than they were in 2008-09. “New York likes to call a reduction of a reduction a restoration and then tries to sell it to the public as an increase,” said Timbs at the October symposium