On Wednesday, Jan. 13, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a state budget proposal that includes a $991 million school aid increase for 2016-17.
The governor outlined his education agenda as part of the combined 2016 State of the State and Executive Budget Address. His proposals include support for struggling schools, expanding universal prekindergarten, new investments to benefit charter and nonpublic schools, and changes to the school tax relief (STAR) program. Cuomo also called on the New York State Education Department to enact the recent recommendations of his Common Core Task Force.
School aid falls below education groups’ recommendations
The budget proposal contained a $2.1 billion total school aid increase over a two-year period covering the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. The $991 million increase proposed for the first of those years would represent a 4.3 percent increase in state education funding, bringing it to a total of $24.2 billion next school year. However, the proposed year-to-year increase is less than half of what the state Board of Regents and statewide education groups have said schools need next year to ensure students’ success.
The bulk of the aid increase proposed for next year would be split in three ways: $408 million to reimburse schools for costs such as transportation, construction and BOCES services; $266 million for Foundation Aid, the main source of funding for general school operations; and $189 million to partially restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a practice of diverting promised funding from schools that began six years ago to help the state deal with a budget shortfall at that time.
By contrast, in December, the Board of Regents recommended a $2.4 billion total school aid increase for 2016-17 alone. It called for a $1.3 billion increase in Foundation Aid next year and $434 million to end the GEA in one year, a priority for other statewide education groups as well.
The Executive Budget Proposal formally opens the budget negotiations between the governor and the New York State Legislature. In the coming months, the Assembly and the Senate will also release budget proposals. Legislators have until April 1 to adopt an on-time state budget.
Education agenda expands in proposal
In addition to the school aid proposals above, the governor’s executive budget also included several other items related to education.
- Community schools: The proposal provides $100 million to implement community school initiatives such as health services and summer learning opportunities in districts with schools identified by the state as “failing” or “persistently failing” as well as in some targeted high-need districts.
- Universal Prekindergarten: The proposal continues the state’s universal prekindergarten initiative by including $22 million for expanded access for 3-year-olds. As of this school year, 460 of the state’s 674 school districts offer prekindergarten slots to 120,582 children.
- Charter schools: The proposal includes an additional $27 million in support for charter schools.
- STAR: The proposal would cap annual STAR growth at zero percent. Enhanced STAR income verification would become mandatory, eliminating the need for seniors to re-apply for their benefit annually, according to the New York State Division of Budget. For new homeowners, the property tax exemption benefit of the School Tax Relief (STAR) program would change to a refundable personal income tax credit.
- Parental Choice in Education Act: The proposal creates a $150 million program to provide tax credits for the following: donations to scholarships for low- and middle-income students to attend non-public schools or public schools outside of their home districts; donations to public school educational improvement programs such as prekindergarten and afterschool activities; eligible tuition expenses; and teacher expenses, up to $200, for the purchase of classroom supplies and materials.
- Non-public school support: The proposal includes a $174 million, or 4 percent, increase in state aid for non-public schools.
- Early College High School: The proposal includes a $4 million investment to expand early college programs for high school students.
In his address, Cuomo also urged the state Education Department to move forward with the recommendations of his recent Common Core Task Force, including reviewing and adjusting the Common Core standards and addressing issues with state assessments. He said the number of students who opted out of last year’s assessments signified a loss of parental trust in the state’s education system and acting on the task force’s recommendations would help restore it.