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January 22, 2014

Aid increases, GEA remains in Governor's budget proposal

The state investment in schools would increase by $807 million or 3.8 percent next year if enacted as outlined in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget. Locally, Niskayuna would see a 2.2 percent increase in aid, although state funding for the district would remain less than it was in 2009-10 due to the state aid reductions of recent years.

The overall statewide increase includes funding that the governor has earmarked for the launch of several new education initiatives.

One of those initiatives is the phase-in of universal, full-day pre-kindergarten statewide. Cuomo proposed spending $1.5 billion over five years to phase in the program. It's not yet clear if the pre-kindergarten program would be a requirement for schools or an option that would come with new state funding.

Gov. Cuomo also proposed a $2 billion bond for a Smart Schools initiative to go before voters in November. If approved, the bond would give schools money for infrastructure improvements related to high-speed broadband access and classroom technology (e.g., smartboards, tablets). Schools could also use the funds to construct new pre-kindergarten classrooms, if the funds allow or if they prefer. The state would distribute the funds to schools based on the existing state aid formula.

Other new education initiatives in his proposal include:

  • Investing $720 million over a five-year period in afterschool programs. Districts would have to submit plans to the State Education Department for approval.
  • An $8 million SUNY/CUNY full-scholarship program for the top 10 percent of high school graduates. Eligible graduates must pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math and work in New York State for five years following graduation from college.
  • A $20 million Teacher Excellence Fund that would allow teachers rated as "highly effective" to be eligible to receive rewards of up to $20,000 annually.
  • Officially eliminating standardized tests for students in grades K-2. Currently there are no state assessments in those grades.

Remaining in his proposal is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced in 2010 as a way for the state government to close its budget deficit. It did so by spreading the funding shortfall around to all school districts through a GEA reduction to the overall Foundation Aid due to schools. Despite New York's anticipated surplus, the governor's proposal calls for only a partial restoration ($323 million) of funds withheld from districts through the GEA.

Niskayuna school leaders are currently reviewing projected aid for the district under the Governor's proposal as part of the district's 2014-15 budget planning.

Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio noted that the state aid reductions of recent years and the GEA, along with mounting costs, have forced school districts across the state into the mode of dismantling programs and opportunities that matter to children and prepare them for the future. Niskayuna's schools have lost nearly $12 million to the GEA over the last four years, and would lose another $2.9 million in 2014-15 under the Executive Budget Proposal.

"As a result, we will still have a gap between available revenue and expenditures," Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said. "We continue to believe there is no better investment than a Niskayuna education – and hope that in the final state budget we see more of the aid that has been withheld in recent years returned to our district and its classrooms."

"We need our community to advocate for the elimination of the GEA – for Niskayuna and for all schools across the state."

The Executive Budget also proposes a two-year property tax freeze for homeowners residing in school districts that meet certain conditions. During the first year of the freeze, a district would have to pass a budget with a levy that stays within its property tax levy cap. During the second year, in addition to again staying within its cap, a district would have to agree to and implement a state-approved plan for shared services and consolidation.

The Executive Budget Proposal will now be considered by state legislators. The deadline for a final state budget is April 1.

Visit http://www.budget.ny.gov/ for more details on the governor's budget.

Some content courtesy of Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio; Copyright 2013; All rights reserved. For more information or permission to use, call 518-464-3960.