On Friday, April 1, New York lawmakers approved a 2016-17 state budget that includes an overall $1.5 billion – or 6.5 percent – increase in education funding. The state budget ends the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has diverted billions of dollars from schools during the last seven years.
BH-BL administrators, Board of Education members, teachers, staff, students and community members have worked tirelessly over the last several years advocating for an end to the GEA, which has cost the district nearly $13 million to date. This included participation in local public advocacy events, numerous letters to Gov. Cuomo, and annual meetings with local legislators asking that these funds be returned to schools.
The state instituted the GEA in 2009-10 to help address its own budget shortfalls brought on by the fiscal crisis at that time. This is money that was promised to schools and could have been used to finance local educational programs.
Back in January, Gov. Cuomo presented his executive budget proposal, which would have called for withholding another $629,156 in GEA funds. But state lawmakers, during four months of debate and negotiations in Albany, voted to finally end the GEA altogether, meaning BH-BL will now receive the additional funding the governor wanted to withhold. The end of the GEA statewide will restore $434 million to school overall next fiscal year.
"We are pleased that our voices were heard, and are thankful to those who helped us advocate to end the GEA," says Superintendent Patrick McGrath. "Although it is unlikely school districts will be reimbursed for the funding lost over the years, the additional monies we are slated to receive next school year will help us stabilize educational programming and propose a budget that could carry an historically low tax levy increase within our allowable limit."
As school leaders and the board continue to develop the 2016-17 school budget, more details will be available at the Budget Forum on Tuesday, April 12 at 7 p.m in the O'Rourke Middle School cafetorium. The forum will also be broadcast live on the district's YouTube channel. A link will be posted on our website at 6:50 p.m. on the night of the forum. Additionally, the board is scheuled to adopt the proposed budget on Tuesday, April 19. The mandatory budget hearing is Tuesday, May 3 and the budget vote is Tuesday, May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym. A budget newsletter outlining the 2016-17 proposed budget will be mailed to residents in early May.
The Legislature’s vote on the budget came on the first day of the state’s new fiscal year. The finalized spending plan provides school districts with information about state aid revenue that is critical as they develop school budgets for the 2016-17 school year.
The bulk of the state aid increase will be split in three ways: a $627 million increase in Foundation Aid, $434 million to end the GEA and $341 million to reimburse schools for costs such as transportation, construction and BOCES services.
The $627 million, or 4 percent, increase in Foundation Aid – the primary source of funding for everyday school operations – is the largest since the fiscal crisis began. However, it is also well below the New York State Board of Regents’ recommendation of a $1.3 billion Foundation Aid increase for next year.
The Regents have highlighted the important role state aid will play in the year ahead due to the restrictive tax levy cap schools are facing. Due to low inflation last year, districts were required to plug a near-zero growth factor into the tax levy cap formula. This limits the availability of local revenue to keep up with cost increases in many districts.
The 2016-17 state budget also includes, or in some cases does not include, several other noteworthy items related to education: