Members of the New York state Senate and Assembly are calling for a massive reallocation of state funding toward education in the upcoming executive budget.
In its recently passed budget proposal, the Assembly announced a budget allocation of $21.1 billion in school aid, an increase of $834 million in formula aid over the 2012-13 school year. Likewise, the Senate's proposal would increase school aid by $415 million more than what was appropriated for education in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget proposal in January.
As part of the aid increase, the proposals deal aggressively with the increasing of foundation aid and decreasing the gap elimination adjustment. A press release from the Assembly states that $208 million of the budget is included for foundation aid, $25 million for high tax aid and $100 million for the GEA.
According to state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, this is relatively good news for Chautauqua County.
"The good news for all Chautauqua County schools is both the Assembly and Senate version (of the budget) has a direct increase in local funding for schools," said Goodell. "When we eliminate the GEA, we restore financial aid to the schools. This is very beneficial for our schools because we generally get double the revenue based on the number of students. The increase in foundation aid is less helpful for us because that doesn't go to low-wealth schools as much, and the high tax aid does virtually nothing for Chautauqua (County)."
He added: "What I'm doing, in conjunction with Sen. (Cathy) Young, is moving more funding into GEA reduction and away from high tax aid - and the Senate's version also does that."
According to Sen. Young, R-Olean, the Senate has proposed redirecting money from other areas of the state budget to fund these changes.
"In the Senate, we have prioritized education and school aid funding, and we wanted to build on the governor's budget," said Young. "We are willing to reallocate fiscal stabilization money to reduce the GEA, and that would benefit every one of my schools. We've also proposed totally eliminating the GEA in three years. This is something we're going to work for to get positive results. Competitive grants don't work well in upstate districts, and we want to see the money flow (into basic funding)."
A NUMBERS GAME
In the governor's budget proposal, Cuomo called for $203 million to be placed into the state's fiscal stabilization fund. This money was to be used at the governor's discretion to help districts that were struggling to meet their operating costs, such as rising pension rates.
Additionally, the competitive grant recommendations made by the governor's Education Reform Commission received $75 million. The recommended initiatives included grants for the implementation of full-day kindergarten, an extended school day or year, community school programs, early college high school programs and bonuses for high-performing math and science teachers. Recently, the Citizens Budget Commission reported that less than 10 percent of the state's nearly 700 school districts applied for these grants, which would ultimately benefit only 3.6 percent of the state's students.
According to Goodell, these were the budget areas in which the Assembly chose to make revisions. Goodell said that the majority of the money in the fiscal stabilization fund was reallocated toward basic educational funding, while $35 million of the $75 million appropriated for the Education Reform Commission's grant proposals were redirected to general aid.
"If these changes occur, state aid for Chautauqua County schools will be exceeding the rate of inflation this year," said Goodell. "Every school district in the county will see increases in state aid, which would have gone up by $6.39 million - that's just under 3 percent. We have not made up for all the cuts that were implemented when the state first ran into real fiscal problems, but we're making substantial progress."
Both the Assembly and Senate budgets also included additional funding for SUNY and CUNY colleges. The plans include an additional $150 per full-time equivalent student, which raises the total community college base aid to $2,422 per FTEs.
This increase is an attempt to restore community college aid to 2008-09 funding levels which, according to Sen. Young, would impact state education on a grand scale.
"Our community colleges are so significant to our education system," said Young. "And they provide high quality education at a very reasonable cost - they've been a tremendous asset."
Goodell pointed out the benefits that this would have on Jamestown Community College students.
"The $150 in additional aid per student because it helps keep JCC affordable while providing a high quality education," he said. "For many of our local residents, JCC is a tremendous opportunity to obtain college credits that are recognized in some of the finest four-year colleges in the nation and that extra $150 (per student) helps ensure that the JCC experience is both affordable and high quality."
Now that the budget proposals have been passed, the Assembly and Senate will hold budget conference committees to reach a single overall budget agreement. Currently, they are on track to to pass the earliest state budget in recent memory.
"Both houses are pretty close in many areas of the budget, and education is a high priority, so I feel confident that we can work out any differences we have," said Young. "Hopefully, we'll get the budget passed by March 21."