NYSASBO: Local share of school spending up, state share down

According to a New York State Association of School Business Officials (NYSASBO) report, the local share of school funding — mostly in the form of property taxes — is up four percent over the last decade.

Conversely, the state and federal share has declined by two percent each over that same time span.

The study identified that school spending moderated considerably since 2009, the onset of the recession, and continued under the tax levy cap.

Despite the recent $1.3 billion increase in school aid funding, the study also shows that aid levels remain below pre-recession levels.

The funding disparity between high need and low need districts has remained virtually unchanged over the last five years. In 2007-08, there was a $5,541 gap between what low need districts and high need districts spent per pupil. In 2012-13, that gap dipped slightly to $5,358 per pupil.

“The state share of education funding is still below pre-recession levels despite recent increases in school aid demonstrating a need for further state investment,” said Michael J. Borges, NYSASBO’s Executive Director. “The disparity between high and low need districts remains troubling to efforts to improve student achievement for all students. The state needs to not only end the GEA, but make a serious down payment on funding the Foundation Aid formula developed in 2007 that was meant to address the inequity between high and low need districts.”

Head of the Class: Angelo Santabarbara

We’re very excited to announce the launch of our new web series entitled “Head of the Class.”

Through “Head of the Class,” we will bring you one-on-one with educational leaders and elected officials throughout New York discussing some of the most pressing issues facing education today.

Our first guest is Assemblymember Angelo Santabara, District 111. We sat down with him to discuss a variety of topics, including the tying of state aid to teacher evaluations, standardized tests and how they relate to teacher evaluation, and the controversial Parental Choice in Education Act.

#FridayFlick: New York’s tax levy cap explained

With school budget votes right around the corner, you may be finding yourself checking your local district’s website to find out more about tax information for the coming year.

Although often referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” New York’s tax levy “cap” law does not restrict any proposed tax levy increase to 2 percent. Pursuant to the law, each school district must follow an 8-step calculation to calculate its individual “tax levy limit.” That limit then determines what level of voter support is required for budget approval. Essentially, the “tax levy limit” sets a threshold that, if exceeded, requires districts to obtain a higher level of community support to pass a proposed budget.

Still confused? Hit the Play button below.

Hundreds pack Colonie High for ‘Save Our Schools’ advocacy event


Watervliet City Schools superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan address local legislators.

Stakeholders from school districts around the Capital Region converged Thursday night at Colonie Central High School to continue an annual call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.

Local legislators from around the region were in attendance and given prime seating — on the stage — providing them the opportunity to hear first-hand from area educators, students, parents and board members how a lack of funding, unfair assessments and performance evaluations are crippling public education.

According to organizers, the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which takes money away from schools to help balance the state budget, has cost Capital Region schools approximately $445 million in promised state aid since its inception. This loss in aid has forced many districts to lay off teachers and staff, and cut educational program offerings to students.

“Governor Cuomo said that teachers wouldn’t be impacted. Tell that to the 30,000 teachers that have been let go,” Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District teacher Laura Bellinger said.

District leaders directed their frustration at the inequitable distribution of aid and pleaded with local legislators to correct the problem.

“I’m not asking for someone else’s piece of the pie,” Watervliet City Schools superintendent Lori Caplan said. “I just want fair and equitable distribution.”

“We have to change the funding formula and make it fair to all districts,” Assemblyman James Tedisco said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all system.”

The teachers who spoke urged the legislators to use a common sense approach when it comes to student assessments and teacher evaluations.

The governor’s budget proposal outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We all deserve better than this,” Schalmont teacher Jessica Melchior said. “Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used — as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community. Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take Common Core out of context for a political agenda.”

Students in attendance also spoke out on testing, questioning the importance of pre-tests, which are given before any subject matter is taught in a given area, to judge how much a student knows.

“It’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously,” Schalmont student Bill Schmidt said. “We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A bubbles on our scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked ‘A.'”  

The legislators in attendance urged those in attendance to stay vocal and keep the pressure on the governor in order to get the change they want.

“Keep your voices strong,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “Stay strong. We’re going to get this done.”

Leading education groups call for Tax Cap changes

The New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB) has outlined a series of recommendations that would fix some of the most damaging elements of the state’s Property Tax Cap for schools.

The ECB paper released on Wednesday explains that schools have always sought a balance between a budget that meets the needs of students and addresses the concerns of taxpayers, but the tax cap signed into law in 2011 has created some fundamental challenges with the school budgeting process.

The 11 recommendations in the paper fall into two categories: (1) changes to the policy framework that supports the tax cap and (2) technical corrections that adjust for shortcomings that are now evident based on three years of practical experience with the cap.

The framework of New York’s tax cap is uniquely restrictive for school districts. The ECB recommendations call for redesigning of the voter approval mechanism for districts seeking to override the cap, which currently requires a 60 percent supermajority. ECB also calls for the harmful zero percent contingency budget cap to be to be adjusted. Neither of these tax cap provisions, the 60 percent voter supermajority or the zero percent contingent cap, applies to the state’s towns, cities, villages, and counties.

The paper also cites tax caps models that are at work in Massachusetts and New Jersey that do not contain the restrictive elements of New York’s cap for schools.

A second group of recommendations in the paper would address technical problems with the tax cap calculation itself. They relate to items such as improving how the formula accounts for payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOTs), BOCES capital costs, transfers to a Capital Reserve Fund, and the carryover provision.

The paper points out that the challenges introduced by the cap have only been exacerbated by the state aid losses of recent years.

Click here to read paper [PDF]

The Educational Conference Board is comprised of the state’s seven leading educational organizations representing parents, classroom teachers, school-related professionals, school business officials, building administrators, superintendents and school boards. Its members are: the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; NYS Association of School Business Officials; NYS Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; NYS School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers and the School Administrators Association of NYS.

Comptroller releases report on tax cap

The Comptroller’s office has released a new report, detailing the effects of the state’s property tax cap over the last three years and its impact on New York school districts.

In 2011, New York state leaders responded to calls for property tax relief by enacting a law that placed new restrictions on how school districts (and municipalities) may increase their tax levies. The law does not prohibit tax levy increases greater than 2 percent. Despite how it’s been described by some politicians and the media, the legislation requires each district to calculate its own tax levy limit. Two percent (or the rate of inflation, if less) is just one of eight factors in this calculation. The law also establishes a higher threshold of voter approval for a budget to pass if a district’s proposed tax levy increase (before exclusions outlined in the law) exceeds its individual tax levy limit.

Some of the interesting findings from the Comptroller’s report:

  • The tax cap poses more of a constraint on those school districts that derive a larger portion of their revenues from the property tax.
  • Based on the individual tax levy limit calculations, 363 school districts could have increased the tax levy by more than 2 percent (if they levied right up to the tax levy limit) and, of these, 62 could have increased the tax levy by 4 percent or more while still remaining under the cap. In contrast, 69 districts were held to less than a 1 percent increase—with 17 of these actually being subject to a levy decrease from the prior year.
  • The number of school districts overriding the tax cap has declined each year. In school year 2013, 6.5 percent of school districts exceeded the tax levy limit. By school year 2015, the number of school districts overriding the tax cap decreased by more than half, to 2.8 percent. This decline may be due in part to the newly enacted Property Tax Freeze Credit (“tax freeze”). Generally, the two-year tax freeze program provides credits to qualifying taxpayers who live within taxing jurisdictions that remain within the tax cap. Taxpayers will not be eligible for the credit if their school district exceeds the tax cap—providing added incentive for districts to stay under the cap.
  • In general, school districts’ decisions to override the tax cap were based, at least in part, on necessity. Comptroller DiNapoli recently implemented a Fiscal Stress Monitoring System to evaluate and report on the level of fiscal stress being faced by localities and school districts across the State. School districts received their first round of scores in January 2014. When examining the relationship between fiscal stress and tax cap overrides, we found that in each of the three years the law has been in effect, fiscally stressed school districts were nearly three times more likely to override the tax cap when compared to school districts that were grouped in the “No Designation” category.
  • Of the 19 school districts that are overriding the tax cap for the 2014-15 fiscal year, five (26 percent) were found to be in fiscal stress.

Click here to read the entire report.


Cuomo calls for $1.1 billion school aid increase and education reforms, no mention of GEA


Note: This story was updated on Jan. 23 to reflect the current interpretation of the Governor’s budget bill regarding aid increases.

Under the Executive Budget Proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, state funding for schools would increase by $1.1 billion next year – provided that state lawmakers go along with a series of education reforms that he described as “ambitious” in his combined budget address and State of the State message.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

An additional $1.1 billion in state aid next year would represent a 4.8 percent increase over the current year. The Division of Budget announced that school aid runs would not be released to districts until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda.

According to language in the Governor’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms he outlined, districts will not see an increase in state aid next year or the year after.

The Governor also did not address the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, which is the mechanism through which the state has diverted promised school funding over the last five years to meet other budget priorities. In that time, schools have lost more than $9.52 billion cumulatively to the GEA, and they are still owed $1.04 billion.

The overall proposed increase in aid falls short of the $2 billion or more that the New York State Board of Regents and leading education groups have called for to meet the needs of students next year.

The Governor is also proposing to make permanent the state’s property tax levy cap, which is set to expire after this current year, as well as a new “circuit breaker” tax reduction program. This would reduce property taxes for some homeowners and renters based on income and the amount of their tax bills.

The series of education reforms Cuomo called for included changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his speech, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

The budget proposal includes funding to continue rewarding teachers with annual stipends who are deemed highly effective and who mentor their peers. The Governor would also create a teacher-in-residency program akin to what is provided for doctors and offer free tuition to top SUNY/CUNY graduates who commit to teaching in New York schools for five years.

The Governor’s proposal also continues to provide grants for the “P-Tech” Pathways in Technology and Early College High School program, which connects high school to two years of college in the STEM fields.

Cuomo outlined a plan to address what he called “failing schools” that would allow a nonprofit, turnaround expert or another district to take over a school after three years of poor results. This entity would be charged with overhauling the curriculum, terminating underperforming staff and recruiting high-performing educators. These schools would be given priority in a variety of state grant programs, and the students would be given priority in charter school lotteries.

The Governor proposed combining the charter school caps for New York City and the rest of the state into one statewide cap and increasing it by 100 new charter schools, for a total cap of 560. Under the existing caps, there are 24 slots left for new charter schools in New York City and 159 slots available statewide. The governor also proposed legislation to ensure that charter schools serve “their fair share” of high-needs populations in relation to public schools, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

Cuomo also proposed an additional $365 million in spending for universal prekindergarten, in line with the plan approved last year to phase $1.5 billion in over five years to expand prekindergarten access statewide. He also called for $25 million for new preschool programs for 3-year-olds in the state’s highest-need school districts.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for the preschool initiative, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Click here to download the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Briefing Book [PDF]

Get out and vote today

Ballot being slipped into voting boxAfter months of political attack ads, debates and candidate promises, Election Day is here.

When New York voters head to the polls today, in addition to candidates for office, they will decide on a $2 billion Smart Schools bond referendum that, if approved, would provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements that could also include classroom space for prekindergarten programs.

Each school district would receive an allocation of the $2 billion Smart Schools that is proportionate to the district’s share of total formula based school aid in the 2013-14 school year, excluding Building Aid, Universal Prekindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district receives 2.0% of total State school aid, the school district’s Smart Schools allocation would be $40 million (.02 * $2,000,000,000). You can click here for a calculator of how much your school district would be eligible to receive.

If you haven’t educated yourself on the issues, take the time to do so. An educated voter is a democracy’s best citizen. We here at Ed Speaks encourage you to vote and exercise your civic duty. People tend to forego voting in the midterm elections. Let’s change that today. Polls are open until 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Friday Rundown 10.3.14

A good Friday morning to you – the first Friday in October! Here’s what you may have missed in education headlines this week.

State officials discuss changes in Regents format (Glens Falls Post Star)

Assemblyman James Skoufis: Stop balancing budgets on the backs of our children (Skoufis press release)

Cuomo announces $22.4 million education grant for NYS (NY.gov)

New York tax system is archaic (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

State judge tosses challenge to NY tax cap (Press Connects)

How much time will new Common Core tests take kids to finish? Quite a lot. (Washington Post)

Superintendents share classroom tech successes (Capital New York)

Rethinking the 
high school diploma (Education Next)

In your opinion: New school snacks will help children (The Daily Star)

U.S. Department of Education announces 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools (Ed.gov)

Times Union: State disqualifies 320,000 from school tax relief

Via Rick Karlin: Approximately 320,000 New Yorkers have been informed that they won’t be receiving a School Tax Relief, or STAR exemption, when tax bills go out in September.

According to state officials, certain properties have not met New York’s registration requirements, including those who earn $500,000 or more annually, and those who have registered more than one home for the exemption. The exemption only applies to the primary residence.

The average STAR savings is $700, although several factors contribute to the calculation of the actual exemption amount, including the level of assessment in the community and, for Enhanced STAR (age 65 and older) only, an annual adjustment based on the rate of inflation. Prior-year savings under STAR are also a factor, as there is now a 2 percent cap on the increase in maximum STAR savings over the previous year.

Last year, a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo meant that all homeowners receiving Basic STAR had to re-register with the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance in order to continue receiving the exemption in 2014 and beyond.

Most New York state homeowners are familiar with the STAR program launched in 1998-99. Originally intended to assist senior citizen homeowners (age 65 and over), STAR was quickly increased and expanded to include residential properties of other school district taxpayers.

Local school districts are reimbursed by the state for property tax revenues that go
uncollected as a result of STAR exemptions. Since its inception, STAR has shifted more
than $3.4 billion from the local tax burden to the state.