Governor's Budget Proposal Falls Short for Queensbury
Jan. 17, 2018
On Tuesday, Jan. 16, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a state budget proposal that includes a $769 million increase in overall funding for school operations in the 2018-19 school year.
Under the governor’s proposal, total school aid for 2018-19 would be $26.4 billion, which represents a statewide increase of 3 percent. Queensbury Union Free School District would see an increase in its Foundation Aid of about $315,000 or 2.1 percent under his proposal. The Foundation Aid increase is significantly less than what is required to maintain current education programs in Queensbury schools, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Scott Whittemore.
“Even with one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the area, Queensbury will be in a challenging fiscal position due to the underfunding of Foundation Aid,” he said.
Whittemore explained that the underfunding occurs because “the state uses old poverty data, which significantly decreases the amount of Foundation Aid that Queensbury would receive. The formula is 10 years old and is not equitable to districts like Queensbury.”
Across the state, the bulk of the funding increase would go toward three areas: $338 million in additional Foundation Aid, which is the primary source of funding for everyday school operations; $317 million to reimburse districts for designated expenses such as transportation, construction and BOCES services; and a $64 million Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
The proposal also targets additional funding for community schools, pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, teacher development and school breakfast initiatives.
“The targeted state aid funding like community schools and pre-kindergarten will not benefit Queensbury, but the monies for teacher development and school breakfast initiatives are encouraging since many of these programs are well underway in our schools. Distributing state aid monies in an equitable funding formula, without the condition of additional programming that contains costs to local taxpayers, would be of greater benefit, though,” said Whittemore.
Other elements in the governor’s proposal that may affect public schools include restrictions on spending and new plans for revenue sources.
The executive budget proposal is the formal beginning of budget negotiations between the governor and the New York State Legislature, with a final state budget due by April 1. The plan put forth by Gov. Cuomo seeks to close an estimated $4.4 billion deficit for the state and to address uncertainties in federal funding and the impact of new federal tax rules.
General funding less than half of Regents’ recommendation
The governor’s proposed increase in education funding is less than half of the amount recommended by the Board of Regents and the Educational Conference Board (ECB), a coalition of the state’s major education groups. Last fall, the Board of Regents called for an overall $1.6 billion increase in school funding for 2018-19, and ECB estimated $1.5 billion was necessary to maintain current school services next year.
Both groups also asked the state to fully fund and ensure equity in the Foundation Aid Formula. The formula was enacted in 2007 to ensure all school districts have the funding needed to provide students with a sound, basic education, but its phase-in was stalled during the recession. The state currently owes schools $4.2 billion in Foundation Aid based on the formula.
Last year, Gov. Cuomo called for adjustments to the Foundation Aid Formula, but those changes were not enacted in the final state budget.
This year, he has proposed a new mandate that would require large school districts to develop plans for how they will distribute their state aid among individual schools each year. In 2018-19, the proposed mandate would apply to districts in cities with populations of more than 125,000, and would be expanded in 2019-20 to include school districts containing at least nine schools and receiving at least 50 percent of their total revenue from the state. These districts would need to submit their aid distribution plans for state approval before the start of each new school year.
Funding for targeted education initiatives in budget proposal
The governor’s budget proposal calls for targeted funding in a series of education initiatives and programs, including the following:
- Community Schools: The proposed Foundation Aid increase includes a $50 million set-aside for community schools. Districts must use these funds for community school initiatives such as before- and after-school mentoring, summer learning activities, health services and dental care.
- Prekindergarten: The proposal includes $15 million in new funding to expand half-day and full-day kindergarten programs for three- and four-year olds, with a focus on high-need districts that do not currently have a prekindergarten program.
- After-school Programming: The proposal includes $10 million in new funding to expand the Empire State After School Grants program in districts with high rates of homelessness or that serve students in high-risk communities.
- Early College High School: The proposal includes $9 million in new funding to create 15 new Early College High School programs in communities with low graduation or college access rates.
- Smart Start Grants: The proposal includes $6 million in new funding to create the Smart Start program, which would provide grants for teacher development and resources in computer science and engineering. All schools could apply, but grants would go to the highest-need schools first.
- School Meals:
- Breakfast After the Bell: The proposal includes $5 million in new funding to support schools with additional meal costs related to the implementation of a mandate proposed for 2018-19. That mandate would require schools with more than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to provide all students with breakfast after the school day begins.
- Ban Lunch Shaming: New legislation in the budget also would require most schools to develop and get state approval for a plan to ensure students are not shamed or treated differently for having unpaid meal balances. It would apply to all public schools that participate in the national school meals program and do not currently provide free school meals to all students.
- Encourage Use of Farm-fresh New York Foods: The proposed budget expands the Farm to School Program and provides incentives for school districts that purchase 30 percent of their food from New York farmers and growers.
- Test Assistance for Families: The proposal includes $2 million in new funding to help low-income students with the cost of taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. It also includes $500,000 in grants for districts that don’t have, but would like to offer, advanced courses.
- Teacher Recognition and Professional Development: The proposal includes $1.4 million in new funding for an additional cohort of master teachers in high-need districts and a third round of Empire State Excellence in Teaching Awards.
New revenue proposals and restrictions in budget proposal
In his budget address, the governor proposed several new “revenue raisers” and restrictions on education spending that would affect schools if implemented, including the following:
- STAR: The proposal would hold the value of School Tax Relief (STAR) Basic and Enhanced exemptions for property taxpayers at existing levels rather than allowing them to grow at the current rate of 2 percent annually. It would also make participation in an income verification program mandatory for recipients of Enhanced STAR benefits.
- Cap on Expense-based Aids: The proposal calls for a 2 percent cap on the growth in major expense-based aid categories such as construction and transportation beginning in the 2019-20 school year.
- Tax Code Changes: The governor shared that the state is exploring ways to restructure its tax code in response to recent tax reforms at the federal level. Some changes could affect school funding such as allowing tax deductible, charitable donations to a public education fund. More details on what the governor is calling the New York State Taxpayer Protection Act are expected in a report from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.