Promising Outlook

ALBANY – State legislators and school administrators now have a bit more insight on how the state plans to fund its proposed education reforms.

In his 2013-14 New York State Budget Proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered the numbers, showing an increase in state aid to school districts.

The budget proposal recommends $20.8 billion in state aid for the upcoming school year, which is the result of a year-to-year increase of $611 million, or 3 percent. This constitutes 28 percent of the state’s general fund spending, making education the largest state-supported program.

The governor is also including additional fiscal stabilization funding in his budget. An extra $203 million, a 1 percent state aid increase, will be added in recognition of extraordinary increases in school district fixed costs, such as pension growth.

Additionally, each district’s completion of the Annual Professional Performance Review process, through state approval of each individual plan, allowed for district eligibility in the state aid increase. In his address, the governor stated that 685 of 691, 99 percent, of districts throughout the state achieved this incentive. Under the new APPR system, student performance is now a major component of teachers’ evaluations – and thus, a factor in decisions of employment. School districts will not be eligible for aid increases unless they have fully implemented their APPR plans by Sep. 1.

The education reform proposals, mentioned by Gov. Cuomo in his State of the State Address, will also provide a means for funding – should districts choose to opt into the new initiatives.

Districts can receive up to: $25 million for instituting a full-day pre-kindergarten program targeted toward higher need students in lower wealth districts; $20 million for agreeing to expand learning time by 25 percent, either through an extended school day or year; $15 million for participating in the innovative community school program, whereby schools integrate social, health and other services to support students and their families; $11 million for providing annual $15,000 stipends for four years to the most effective teachers in the state; and $4 million to provide early college high school programs.

Altogether, the executive budget is proposing a total increase of $889 million, 4.4 percent, for education. According to state Sen. Cathy Young, the increase is undeniably beneficial, but could better serve elsewhere.

“Schools in my Senate district will receive a nearly $16 million funding increase from the governor’s $611 million proposal in statewide general education aid,” she said. “I have questions about his plan to award $75 million in competitive grants for full-day pre-K and a longer school day (or) school year. Many districts are struggling and need general school aid. Most rural schools do not have the resources to do grant writing, which puts them at a disadvantage. It would be better for my district to allocate the $75 million to high-needs, low-wealth schools that really need the help.”

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Board Association, released a statement expressing a reserved optimism.

“We support many of the governor’s education reforms, such as full-day prekindergarten, extended learning time and community schools. We appreciate the funding that the governor put toward these promising initiatives,” he said. “However, we warn against too much reliance on the competitive grants to allocate education funding. While we are optimistic, we will take a wait-and-see approach as more details emerge about how these funds will be allocated.”

When compared with the 2012-13 estimate aids, preliminary estimates for state aid in 2013-14 show a $4,077,461 increase for Cattaraugus County and a $461,589 increase for Chautauqua County.