Due to heroic, last-minute activism by NYSUT members who called, picketed, emailed and faxed their elected representatives, and the relentless efforts of NYSUT's legislative staff, the final 2017–18 state budget provided incremental victories for public school advocates and higher education, and stopped some of the worst ideas floating around the Capitol.
"We always say: A late budget is better than a bad budget," said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. "This year, the extra time was crucial as our lobbying and grassroots activism really helped turn the tide on key items and stem the tide on some dangerous threats."
For example, Senate Republicans had considerable support to expand opportunities for corporate charter school operators, who give lavishly to the election campaigns of leading GOP senators. Many charter operators spent millions during budget negotiations to push for more aid and to expand the number of charters across the state.
NYSUT and its allies in the Democrat-controlled Assembly defeated the proposal to eliminate or increase the charter cap; stopped a proposal to unfreeze charter school tuition rates, which would have enriched operators by hundreds of millions of dollars; rejected plans to make districts pay for School-Related Professionals needed at charters; and rejected statewide building aid.
Charters did receive some additional public funding, but nowhere near what the private profiteers were seeking.
The union's efforts also helped defeat the proposal to eliminate the Foundation Aid Formula. NYSUT will continue to fight to protect the formula as well as advocate for progressive changes and a full phase-in of what districts are owed.
NYSUT also defeated the proposal to allow for special education "mandate relief," sometimes called special ed "flexibility," which would have allowed some districts, essentially, to claim the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not apply to them.
Here are highlights included in the budget:
An increase of $1 billion in school aid, which includes an increase of $700 million in Foundation Aid and fully funds expense-based aid.
A two-year extension of the millionaires' tax.
Professional development and teacher centers
Funding for teacher centers was restored and increased to a total of $20 million; the Teachers of Tomorrow Program is maintained at last year's level of $25 million; the Mentor/Intern program is funded at $2 million; and National Board Certification is funded at $368,000.
The budget provides an increase of $50 million for community schools through a set-aside in Foundation Aid to fund co-located or school-linked academic, health, mental health and personnel services, dual language programs, nutrition, counseling, legal services and other authorized support services. The budget also includes funding for three community school regional technical assistance centers.
The budget provides a $2.3 million increase in funding to 4201 Schools; a capital fund of $30 million to be shared by Special Acts, 4201, 853 and non-public schools; and money to help cover higher minimum wage costs for these schools.
Public higher education was one of the highest priorities in budget negotiations this year.
Higher ed leaders call the new state budget a "good first step," and praised lawmakers for approving the governor's Excelsior tuition scholarship plan to expand access, and a maintenance of effort for the state and city universities. Reinstatement of maintenance of effort provisions will provide campuses with annual funding for operating costs — at least as much as the year prior.
"Campuses are still reeling from drastic state aid cuts during the Great Recession, which is why the passage of the MOE is welcome and necessary," said United University Professions President Fred Kowal. "It will help campuses plan for the future."
However, NYSUT and higher ed union leaders have said the governor's affordability plan would be problematic unless it is linked to more state aid to support faculty and programs.
"Without increased public investment, Excelsior cannot achieve its full potential," said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY. "The enacted state budget fails to provide the resources necessary to enable students to graduate on time."
Funding for SUNY and CUNY remains relatively flat for next year, with some incremental increases tied to planned tuition increases. Community colleges tied to both universities got a modest boost of $50 per full-time equivalent student.
The budget allocates $87 million for the Excelsior Scholarship Program with slightly modified eligibility standards. However, the program does provide students with funding to cover the cost of tuition at SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions and part-time scholarships for community colleges. In order to qualify for the program, students must enroll in at least 12 credits per semester and complete at least 30 combined credits per year following the student start date.
The program will be phased in over three years, starting with eligibility guidelines of family income up to $100,000 in 2017–18, $110,000 in 2018–19 and $125,000 in 2019–20. Students must live and work in New York State for a number of years (equal to the duration of the award received) within six months of receipt of his or her final award payment.
The budget restores $9.3 million of the state subsidy for a total of $78.3 million.
Health Care Facility Transformation Program
The budget includes $500 million to support health care facility transformation initiatives for capital projects, debt retirement, working capital or other non-capital projects that facilitate health care transformation activities, including: mergers, consolidations, acquisitions or other activities intended to create financially sustainable systems of care or preserve or expand essential health care services.
Union dues tax deduction
In a first step to counteracting attacks on union membership by right-to-work forces, the state budget authorizes the deduction of union dues from state income taxes. Early estimates indicate that this proposal will provide approximately $35 million in additional tax refunds to union members statewide.
Read more at nysut.org
To read the full initial state budget analysis prepared by the union's legislative staff, visit www.nysut.org/budget2017.