Got to give credit where it's due: NYSUT is praising the governor's proposal to spend an additional 4 percent — a billion dollars — on pre-K–12 public education.
However, in all honesty, the executive budget would deliver only about half of what is necessary for 2017–18.
"More school aid is needed in the enacted budget, especially with a state tax cap of 1.26 percent," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta in testimony before the joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.
The tax cap will limit local district revenue growth to a maximum of $200 million statewide, and districts will need at least an additional $1.5 billion in state aid — on top of the limited local revenue — just to maintain programs and avoid layoffs, he said.
NYSUT echoes the Board of Regents' call for an increase of $2.1 billion in general purpose school aid, Pallotta said, more than double what Gov. Cuomo proposes.
When Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Syosset, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, asked Pallotta where the additional funding would come from, Pallotta had the answer, and more.
With a nod, again, to the governor's plan to extend the "millionaire's tax," Pallotta said NYSUT urges the Legislature to go a step further and pass the Assembly's progressive plan to expand the tax for the state's highest earners. That would raise $5.6 billion in new revenue annually to support public education, health care and infrastructure, he said. Additionally, NYSUT fully supports closing the "carried interest" loophole by raising the state income tax rates on private equity and hedge-fund partners to equalize the tax savings they receive from the federal capital gains loophole, he said. A proposal to allow the state to recoup this revenue would generate nearly $3.5 billion.
That's $9 billion in new revenue to offset the additional $1.1 billion the Regents and NYSUT contend schools need.
Pallotta said the union strongly supports maintaining the long-standing Foundation Aid formula — which the executive budget proposes to eliminate — but is open to tweaks to update it and make it more progressive. He noted all districts are not created equally and their needs vary according to their circumstances. The formula incorporates the cost of educating a student, the needs of students within each district, variations in regional costs and the district's ability to support the cost of educating its students. It also serves as a way for districts to understand and plan for the level of state support that they should expect to receive in a given year.
"While the state has fallen far short of fully funding the formula, we believe the formula serves a vital purpose for school districts," Pallotta said.
Community schools and receivership
NYSUT thanked the governor and the Legislature for their leadership and commitment to community schools, which provide wraparound services for the state's neediest students.
Community schools are proving successful in closing the achievement gap; reducing chronic absenteeism especially due to inadequate health care; reducing grade retention; reducing dropout rates; increasing graduation rates; and increasing student participation in after-school and summer programs.
Pallotta urged the Legislature to maintain $255 million in existing community school funding and to add $100 million in new funding to adequately sustain community schools statewide through a Community School Categorical Aid.
"Funding for community schools is critically important and should supplement, not supplant, Foundation Aid," Pallotta said.
The executive budget would not amend the 2015 Receivership Law, which mislabels schools, students and educators based on the failed implementation of the Common Core and flawed state standardized test scores, without taking into account the progress made in existing local turnaround programs. This law blames educators, rather than addressing the real, fundamental problems plaguing these schools — chronic underfunding and high concentrations of students living in poverty.
The union called for repeal of the law, and urged the Legislature to enact legislation to require any school on the receivership list to automatically become a community school.
Eliminating or amending the tax cap continues to be a high priority for NYSUT.
Living under a tax cap has hindered most districts' ability to restore recessionary cuts to classroom services. Without significant additional aid, and a reasonable adjustment to the tax cap for costs beyond their control, many school districts will lack the resources to fund current programs.
"The tax cap hurts our poorest districts the most," Pallotta said, "placing severe limits on their ability to raise local revenue."
Short of a full repeal, NYSUT urges the Legislature to enact changes to the current law, including:
- Change the allowable tax levy limit to 2 percent or the CPI, whichever is greater.
- Eliminate the undemocratic supermajority of voters required to override the cap.
- Allow additional exemptions, including but not limited to BOCES capital expenses and "payments in lieu of taxes" in tax base growth factor determinations.
The executive budget would eliminate funding for teacher centers. Teacher centers are the only state funded vehicle guaranteed to provide comprehensive, ongoing professional development and support services to educators in all school districts, including more than 200 high-needs districts, BOCES, non-public and charter schools.
NYSUT asks that funding be restored to at least its 2008–09 level of $40 million.
A winning formula
How the Legislature can find an additional $1.1 billion to fully fund schools and more: Expand millionaire's tax $5.6 billion + Close capital gains loophole $3.5 billion = $9.1 billion in additional funding for education, health care and infrastructur.