May/June 2020 Issue
April 25, 2020

In a crisis, the fight for fairness continues

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
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pallotta at capitol rally
Caption: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta joins members from the union’s Committee of 100 and lawmakers at a rally to press for much-needed education funds. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

The effort was unprecedented, as hundreds of union activists and NYSUT’s legislative team traveled the state and swarmed the Capitol for weeks to make the case that this is the year to fully Fund Our Future.

Even with a $6 billion deficit, the union and a full complement of coalition partners — with the support of the vast majority of voters — argued the investment in public education was essential, and easily affordable with new revenues from proposed taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Momentum grew every week.

Then came COVID-19. The economy spiraled out of control and further budget discussions stalled.

The projected deficit in the state’s 2020–21 budget grew from $6 billion to more than $10 billion. Lawmakers began planning reductions they justified under the term “pandemic adjustments.” We fought back against proposed cuts that would hurt students and communities and were able to secure flat funding.

“The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic makes public services like education, higher education and health care more important now than ever before,” said President Andy Pallotta. “Flat funding for K–12 schools and higher education will be tough.”

The fight for fair and long overdue funding will continue, however, after this crisis is behind us.

NYSUT leaders and activists toured the state earlier this year on the “Fund Our Future” bus to hear directly from the educators, students and parents who rely on public schools about the critical funding needs they face.

“If anything, the needs that we saw then have only increased during this pandemic,” Pallotta said.

“Our schools and the public hospitals on the front lines of this pandemic need every support they can get,” Pallotta said. “There may be uncertainty regarding state revenues moving forward, but we will fight for every resource that public schools, colleges and hospitals need.”

The enacted budget authorizes the director of the budget to adjust appropriations at three times during the year if revenues exceed or fall short of projections. Pallotta promised the union will be vigilant in monitoring this process to advocate for the needs of our students, public schools, colleges and universities.

The CARES Act

Notably, the union maintains that any significant periodic adjustment that reduces state school aid would violate the maintenance of effort provision in the federal CARES Act and would cost the state $1 billion.

The CARES Act provides nearly $1 billion that goes directly to institutions of higher education, which does not show up in the state budget.

School Aid

The budget provides a $95 million (0.35 percent) increase over the 2019–20 school aid amount, for a total of $27.4 billion, but it freezes Foundation Aid at last year’s levels.

Expense-Based Aids

The $95 million increase goes to this category. NYSUT defeated the proposal to merge expense-based aids categories (BOCES, special services, high tax, charter school transitional, textbook, school library materials, computer software, computer hardware and technology, www.nysut.org May/June 2020 | 5 supplemental public excess cost, and academic enhancement) into Foundation Aid.

BOCES

The union ensured BOCES aid was not merged into any other expense-based aid category. BOCES can still apply for P-TECH grants for advanced courses; the budget includes $3.3 million for learning technology programs.

Community Schools

The budget continues to provide $250 million to community school programs and continues the minimum amount of the district set-aside of $100,000.

Pre-K Expansion

A total of $340 million is allocated for Universal Pre-K expansion.

Teacher Centers

Due to the advocacy of NYSUT and its members, the enacted budget restores $14.26 million in funding for teacher centers. It provides $2 million for the Mentor Teacher/Intern Program and $368,000 for National Board Certification.

Charter Schools

The budget does not provide any critical reforms to make charter management operators more transparent and accountable to taxpayers and the public, but NYSUT convinced lawmakers to reject language to circumvent the cap on new charter schools by not counting failed, so-called “zombie charters.”

Rochester Monitor

As a result of NYSUT’s advocacy, the budget provides $175,000 to support a monitor for the Rochester City Schools who will be appointed solely by the commissioner of education. The district also received $35 million to address the current-year fiscal shortfall.

Special Schools

The budget maintains flat funding of $103.9 million for 4201 Schools; but it includes $17.2 million to increase salaries for staff in 4201, 4410, Special Act and 853 Schools.

Special Education ‘Mandate Relief’

NYSUT helped block an effort to allow school districts, BOCES and private schools to petition SED for flexibility in special education requirements.

English Language Learners

Up to $18.5 million is allocated in competitive grants for bilingual education for school districts, BOCES, colleges and universities.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The enacted budget provides flat funding of $730 million for SUNY state-operated campuses and relatively flat funding of $552 million for CUNY’s senior colleges, where fringe benefits increased $50 million.

Capital Funding

The capital plan provides $550 million for state-operated campuses and $46 million for SUNY Community Colleges. It provides $284 million for CUNY senior colleges and $64.3 million for CUNY CCs.

Community College Base Aid

The budget maintains the state base aid per Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student at $2,947. However, the overall base aid amount will be reduced due to reductions in enrollment.

SUNY Hospitals

The state subsidies were not restored for the three SUNY hospitals (Downstate, Upstate and Stony Brook) but Disproportionate Share Hospital support was funded in the amount of $460 million. DSH payments offset the costs associated with uncompensated care.

Tuition Assistance Program

The enacted budget provides $1 billion in TAP funding. Lawmakers rejected the executive proposal to expand the Excelsior Scholarship Program.

We Teach NY

A total of $3 million is allocated for the We Teach NY Program to address the teacher shortage in identified subject areas.

LABOR

Sick Leave

The budget requires private employers to provide five-to-seven days of sick leave to all their employees.

Janus

NYSUT fought to ensure that public employers keep unions up to date on new hires and the status of members and to allow access to new employee orientations. The new budget language also indemnifies public employers, unions and the comptroller from liability for deducting, receiving or retaining dues or agency shop fees prior to the Janus decision.

HEALTH & SAFETY

Medicare Part B and IRMAA

NYSUT quashed a proposal that would have ceased standard Medicare Part B reimbursement and Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts (IRMAA) for NYSHIP retirees, as well as provisions whereby future retirees would pay more toward health insurance.

School Safety Plans

The budget includes $24 million for extended day programs and school violence prevention programs consistent with school safety plans.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Banning the ‘Pink Tax’

The enacted budget prohibits gender-based pricing discrimination.

Gestational Surrogacy

The budget allows paid gestational surrogacy, which establishes a surrogate’s Bill of Rights.

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