October 21, 2009

Testimony on Proposed Midyear Cuts to Education

Source: NYSUT Legislative Department

Testimony of New York State United Teachers to the Assembly Standing Committee on Ways and Means on the Estimated Budget Deficit for the 2009-2010 State Fiscal Year, October 21, 2009.

NYSUT is a statewide union representing more than 600,000 members. Our members are pre-k to 12th grade teachers, school related professionals, higher education faculty, and other professionals in education and health care.

I thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding the Governor's proposed Deficit Reduction Plan (DRP).

As Election Day approaches, I am reminded that almost a year ago, then President-elect Barack Obama outlined the key components of his Economic Recovery Plan – a plan which was intended to save or create 2.5 million jobs across the country in various sectors over a two year period. This plan is working: initial reporting from states is that at least 250,000 education jobs have been created or saved across the nation thanks to this Economic Recovery Plan. This plan is supporting our students and fueling our economy.

As you know, last week the Governor released plans to cut k-12 education, higher education and health care funding in the current year by over $1 billion. These cuts immediately beg the question: Where is our plan for New York's Economic Recovery? How do these cuts help us fuel economic development, improve the quality of life for our citizenry and provide the economic security that New Yorkers need?

If these cuts are enacted in the current year, programs and staff will be eliminated at a time when the unemployment rate in New York state is high and rising. Last year, the United States lost more jobs than at any time since the Second World War. Among our own membership, NYSUT has lost over 6,000 teachers, school related professionals, university staff and health professionals through layoffs and attrition. These are 6,000 jobs that no longer will generate a paycheck and contribute to local and state economies. State aid for education was essentially flat this year which meant that school districts lacked the funding necessary to cover the cost increases of current operations. This resulted in the widespread loss of summer school opportunities, loss of music, art, and foreign language classes, increased class size and curtailment of science programs needed to prepare students for high demand jobs in health, technology, and science. The proposed cuts are in addition to the broken CFE promise.

Our colleges and universities are bursting at the seams with record enrollment and these cuts would close off access to prospective students at a time when there are ever increasing demands for retooling the state's workforce. Faculty searches are being halted, class sizes are increasing and classes are being cancelled for next semester. Moreover, due to severe faculty shortages and funding shortfalls, tens of thousands of qualified high school students and community college transfer applicants are being denied admission to four-year public colleges and universities.

Lastly, these cuts will place significant pressure on local property taxpayers at a time when state leaders are attempting to lessen the burden. Governor Paterson has announced a proposal to cut $686 million from public schools in the middle of the school year as a means to rescue the state from its financial problems. He has essentially decided to solve the state's problems by creating problems at the local level. Local school districts will be forced to reduce staffing levels and be given the difficult task of explaining to the parent of a kindergartner why their child's teacher doesn't work at the school any more. Our children only get one shot at kindergarten.

The proposed job-killing cuts will slow New York's economic recovery and do irreparable harm to students and the neediest New Yorkers. Wall Street is on track to award record pay which will translate into state revenue. Waiting one more quarter to see how the improvements now being shown by Wall Street affect state revenues is much more prudent than making hasty cuts. In fact, in the recent Siena Research Institute poll, New York state voters were asked how the Governor and State Legislature should close the state budget deficit. And in that poll only three percent of New Yorkers thought cutting education was the way to go. Ninety-seven percent of New Yorkers believe you should find another way.

Midyear Cuts to School Aid

Midyear cuts to public education would not only be painful, but extremely disruptive to our children's classrooms. The proposed $686 million cut from public schools in the middle of the school year will force districts to implement a 4.5 percent cut in their remaining funds over a six month period. This type of dramatic midyear cut would disrupt the school year already in progress, compound years of under funding of under resourced schools, and reverse recent statewide test score gains.

A midyear cut would essentially double the effect of the reduction and result in chaotic, unplanned short term decisions since many of the funding obligations districts entered into at the beginning of the year are unrecoverable. Doubling the effect of these cuts would inevitably erode most of the good that was accomplished by the Federal Stimulus devoted to education. Thousands of additional school staff would be laid-off that had been saved earlier this year by the ARRA.

In the 2007-08 school year, the Legislature was successful in enacting a new Foundation Aid formula that was intended to provide school districts with stable and predictable state aid increases over a phase-in period. Last year, we suffered a setback in the phase-in of this funding when it was frozen due to the state's poor economic condition. Further interruption of funding for education will postpone our shared goal of closing the achievement gap and providing all children a sound basic education.

The Executive proposes to cut school aid on a sliding scale based on certain wealth and local capacity factors. These cuts were intended to be progressive when in fact these cuts reduce aid to the poorest districts THE MOST. This is because needy districts are the most dependent on state aid to run their schools. The poorest districts will see the greatest reduction in revenue as a percent of their total budget. Low wealth districts often have the leanest budgets with little cushion to absorb drastic cuts in aid.

Interestingly, the Governor has suggested that school districts dip into their reserve funds to absorb these midyear unexpected cuts. The irony is that the Governor himself is sitting on top of a $1.5 billion "rainy day fund" which he refuses to use to avert these job-killing cuts. I think we can all agree that it is officially raining and it is time to tap into these funds.

Higher Education

In the area of public higher education, the Governor's Deficit Reduction Plan (DRP) continues the historic custom of levying disproportional cuts to SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions as compared to any other state agency. In the last eighteen months, SUNY's state-operated campuses have been cut by a staggering $410 million. At the same time, if you include the proposed $53 million cut, CUNY's senior colleges will have sustained an alarming cut of $165 million. Out of the recently announced $500 million state agency cuts by the Governor, SUNY ($90 million) and CUNY ($53 million proposed) cuts total $143 million which far exceeds the stated 11 percent cut against each agencies non-personal service.

Our public universities are being cut at a time when the demand for their services is at an all time high. This is counterproductive when you consider the fact that intellectual capital is what is driving economies around the world and is what our state needs to invest in to foster economic growth. Businesses are choosing to locate near great colleges and universities that can provide them with cutting-edge research and a skilled workforce. These cuts fly in the face of this fact and will undermine our economic recovery.

We have heard a lot lately about how New York state spends too much. One thing is abundantly clear however, New York state has never spent too much on public higher education. In fact, the opposite is true. For example, when you factor in the most recent midyear cut of $90 million to SUNY's state-operated campuses, the state now provides less state General Fund support to SUNY than it did nineteen years ago in 1990. Students, through tuition, are now providing the bulk of SUNY's operating budget and are getting considerably less for more of their money. Students are getting less full-time faculty, less student advisement, less course offerings, increasing class sizes, and longer graduation rates-all for larger tuition bills.

The same can be said about students attending our state's community colleges. Midyear cuts to community college base aid just don't make sense. These institutions are the gateway to achieving a college degree for thousands of people, especially in times of economic crisis. SUNY and CUNY community colleges are now faced with record enrollments and an increasing number of applications to their campuses. Administrators are facing enormous difficulties in accommodating increased students' needs with fewer faculty and resources. If the proposed cuts are enacted, administrators will be forced to raise tuition yet again as they have done numerous times in recent years due to inadequate state support. Our community colleges are already among the most expensive in the nation.

President Obama recently acknowledged and highlighted the important role that these institutions play in fostering economic growth by his historic visit to Hudson Valley Community College. Yet, there is a $260 per full-time equivalent student midyear cut in community college base aid on the table. Again, this is counterproductive.

All we hear is that there must be cuts, however, there is no proposed viable economic plan to enable us to grow our economy to get us out of this crisis and build a sustainable economic future. We submit that public higher education should be a major part of our state's economic plan and have been saying so for many years.

Public higher education has more than paid its share not only this year, but over the last two decades to the detriment of our state's economic well-being. We urge you to rectify the recent administrative cut to SUNY state-operated campuses and to reject proposed cuts to CUNY senior colleges and our community colleges.

Libraries

The proposed DRP would also cut Library Aid by $3.3 million in the current year. Library Aid has been cut three times in the last 18 months, going from $102 million in 2007 to $99 million in 2008, and finally to $91 million in 2009. Now is not the time to be cutting funding for services that people of all ages are relying on to improve their literacy and computer skills, to search for jobs and to access public assistance through the free internet service at the library. Libraries have become an essential public service, a safety net for the unemployed and a cost saver for average families pinching pennies during these difficult economic times.

Savings

NYSUT recognizes the importance of spending education dollars wisely by reducing non-instructional and administrative costs through greater economies of scale, efficiencies and investment in energy conservation and green buildings. BOCES should be given direction and authority to pursue regionalization of procurement, payroll and other back-office and administrative services.

NYSUT is just as concerned about increases in health insurance costs as the employers. We have supported the development of a coordinated bulk drug purchase for all state agencies and local governments.

The state should also explore self-insuring prescription drug procurement while protecting mandated benefit levels and eliminate the "risk charge" that siphons rebates to insurance middlemen.

NYSUT applauds President Obama and Congressional leaders for championing investments in modern green school buildings. NYSUT believes that the state should require all new school construction to adopt the New York Collaborative for High Performance in Schools (CHPS) standard developed jointly by SED and NYSERDA. Contrary to what you might believe, green schools do not cost more to build than conventional schools. In fact, green schools cost significantly less money to operate and use less water and energy, freeing up resources to focus on improving student education. A typical green school saves $100,000 per year in direct costs. If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total $20 billion over the next ten years.

In 1997 the Ohio School Facilities Commission launched an ambitious program to rebuild all 3,500 public schools as "green" schools rather than as conventional ones. The Commission found that building green schools would save the state an estimated $1.4 billion in energy bills alone.

The state should undertake other conservation measures which include implementing net-metering for school facilities where onsite devices such as solar panels could produce enough energy to give back to the grid and offset energy bills. NYPA and NYSERDA should provide training for school district energy managers and building personnel and provide seamless one stop technical assistance from audits to installation and financing.

Conclusion

We urge you to find alternatives to devastating midyear cuts to education, higher education and health care. Disinvesting in our student's education and walking away from our commitment to our most needy and vulnerable populations will only deepen the economic and social pain for families across the state.

Investments in education and higher education are critical to meeting the workforce demands of a global information and high tech economy and growing the states economy. There is no better return for taxpayer dollars than maintaining our commitment to an excellent education for all elementary and secondary schoolchildren and public university students. We stand ready to work with you to find alternatives to midyear cuts to vital public services.29524