Component school districts in the WSWHE BOCES, including Queensbury, have established a set of regional advocacy priorities for the legislative session.
WSWHE chief school officers’ 2021 legislative priorities
Fund 2021-22 school aid to the greatest extent possible
The State’s school aid system is intended to provide districts transparent, equitable, predictable and reliable funding. That system consists of a number of formula based aids including Foundation Aid and expense based aids that are necessary to provide students with a sound basic education. These formula based aids are then supplemented by a variety of additional grants and funds that further support students. Even without the limitations on local revenue presented by the tax levy cap, local taxpayers (who have suffered their own financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic) would not be in a position to close a state support gap. Recommendations include, but are not limited to the following:
- Ensure that school aid distribution is equitable, considering district ability to pay and student need;
- Fund the Foundation Aid formula to the greatest extent possible;
- Provide a stable baseline aid figure to schools for the 2021-22 school year;
- Fully fund expense based aids.
Support a long term solution to small group health insurance protections
Under current law, many insurance policies, including health insurance provided through employing school districts, defines a small group as an employer with 1-100 employees, rather than 1-50 (the prior standard). This adjustment would have captured hundreds of school districts and as a result forced those districts out of their health insurance consortium and increased the costs for insurance for the small districts leaving the consortium as well as the districts left in the now smaller consortium. Since 2015, the state has adopted a number of short term (1-2 year) carve outs that would allow these districts to remain in their consortiums. However, this temporary protection is scheduled to end again in December of 2022. Given the ongoing financial strain, many districts have reduced staff through attrition, and those districts “on the bubble” have now dipped below 100 employees, increasing the pool of districts and employees at risk. Decisions about employee health insurance and district budgets cannot be made without adequate time. Changes in coverage have to be negotiated with collective bargaining units, and changes in cost must either be budgeted, or other programs must be cut. To ensure that these districts can remain in their consortiums and limit the impact on employees and taxpayers, these protections should be extended during the 2021 legislative session.
Address dramatic cost increases related to unemployment insurance
Despite extraordinary efforts to keep school district employees on the payroll in 2020, districts paid significantly higher than usual amounts of unemployment payments. Because of enhancements to unemployment, even legitimate claims were more costly than they would have otherwise been. However, districts in this region are addressing a number of claims that have been proven to be or are believed to be fraudulent or improperly paid. Due to the fiscal crisis, New York State worked extremely hard to send out unemployment checks as quickly as possible to assist those in need. However, as part of that process, many claims were paid without the prior verification by the employing district. As a result, claims that would otherwise not have been paid were released and then charged to school districts. While our districts are pursuing available remedies, the scope of the problem is so large that more direct intervention may be needed. We look forward to working with the Legislature and Department of Labor to address this issue.
Spreading the word
The following are ways in which the school community builds awareness of its priorities throughout the year.
The legislative session begins in Albany, and the governor typically delivers his executive budget by the end of the month. School advocates share their priorities via email and social media as well as by letter or during in-person meetings.
February and March
Various pro-education groups hold public rallies or lobby days in Albany.
The legislative session ends after school budgets are set for the following year, so advocates work to ensure no new unfunded/underfunded mandates are passed.
Summer to fall
Advocates visit local legislative offices to discuss their priorities for local schools.
Deliver your advocacy messages more effectively by telling gripping stories in brief presentations known as “laser talks.”
Identify the problem
- In your laser talk, focus first on identifying a problem you want your listener to know about. Try to connect the problem to an issue the listener already cares about.
Present a solution
- Next, inform the listener about a solution to the problem you just presented. Give examples of how the solution would work and why it would be effective. You might cite a recent study or use other credible statistics.
Issue a call to action
- The final section of the laser talk is the call to action. Calls to action should be concrete, specific and include a “yes” or “no” question.
Work in a personal story
- Try to include a compelling, personal story that expands on your laser talk.
Solving the fiscal crisis for schools, taxpayers
New York schools provide vital programs and services to students and families throughout the state. State legislators and the Board of Regents often prescribe how these services should or can be provided through the passage of laws, regulations and guidelines, generally referred to as “mandates.” Unfortunately, these state mandates have created an environment of unsustainable rising costs for public schools.
How do mandates affect education?
Mandates are designed to help students by requiring greater accountability, by improving the quality of education and/or the educational environment, and by serving the interests of all students or specific student populations. Here are just a few examples:
- Grades 3-8 and Regents exam testing, scoring, analysis and mailings to parents
- Annual Professional Performance Reviews for teachers and principals
- Common Core Standards adoption, implementation and curriculum realignment
- Special education mandates
- Internal and external audit requirements
- Maintenance of a physical and dental health records for every student
- Numerous plans and reports for the state Education Department
How are mandates causing a crisis for schools and taxpayers?
New mandates often come unfunded or underfunded, meaning districts must reduce non-mandated programs and services or pass on the cost to local taxpayers. Of the 151 mandates that “represent the greatest challenges to districts in terms of financial burden and required time,” 69 percent came with no funding. (source: www.p12.nysed.gov/fmis/mandaterelief)
Almost every report released on the topic has outlined a series of recommendations on how to achieve mandate relief, but very few of the proposals have actually been enacted. In fact, the Legislature, governor, Board of Regents and the federal government regularly enact new mandates that districts must follow.