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2015-16 Budget NEWS

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January 22, 2015

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Cuomo calls for $1.1 billion school aid increase tied to changes to APPR, with no mention of the GEA

Under the Executive Budget Proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 21, state funding for schools would increase by $1.1 billion next year – provided that state lawmakers go along with a series of changes that he described as “ambitious” in his combined budget address and State of the State message.

The changes 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.

Superintendent Patrick McGrath notes that the withholding of district-specific aid proposals is a departure from previous practice and increases the uncertainty as districts create their 2015-16 budgets. “At this point in the process, the district usually uses the Governor’s school aid proposals as a guideline in developing revenue projections for the upcoming year,” he says. “In the absence of these proposals, the district will make conservative estimates of potential state aid increases.”

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.

McGrath states that this tactic of tying large increases in school aid to specific programs is unusual: “If the governor wants the legislature to consider changes to the APPR, I think that that should be taken up as a separate issue. At the very least, the only portion of the school aid increases that should be tied to APPR changes should be the actual amount it would cost the state and local districts to implement this new system. I reject the premise that ‘all schools are broken’ therefore they must accept this specific ‘fix’ if they are to see increases in funding.”

Cuomo’s proposed “reforms” include 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.

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 “objective” 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.

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.

Adapted from Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio Copyright 2014; All rights reserved. For more information or permission to use, call 518-464-3960.