September/October 2020 Issue
August 23, 2020

Waiting game: Delayed aid and pending results from a chaotic session

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta appears on Capitol Tonight to make the case for funding schools need.

The scheduled state legislative session in Albany ground to a halt this summer, but lawmakers are still operating remotely, with much to be resolved.

Now, schools and colleges are struggling to reopen within days, health care institutions fear a fall resurgence of the coronavirus and key elections approach in mere weeks.

The fiscal impact of the pandemic and politics threaten to push the lagging economy over the brink.

In early August, with school districts around New York working on their plans for the start of the school year, the state Division of Budget (DOB) notified districts that devastating cuts are coming.

In response to a projected $14.5 billion budget shortfall, DOB said any funding tied to a statutory due date will be reduced by at least 20 percent, and that the state may withhold payments entirely for items with no statutory due date.

Public higher education at SUNY, CUNY and community colleges face similar “delays” that feel more like deprivation.

“New York State should not balance its budget on the backs of our students,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

“Even before this pandemic, it was clear we had a crisis in public education, from pre-K through higher ed,” he said. “Now, because our leaders in Albany and Washington have failed to provide the funds required to meet increasing demands on our institutions and educators in this time of crisis, we face the prospect of draconian cuts that will make a terrible situation worse.

“That is morally repugnant and completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Washington needs to do its job and provide federal funding to support our schools, and Albany needs to stop protecting the ultrawealthy and make them pay their fair share toward education, health care and the essential services New Yorkers rely on.”

Some progress

In spite of the unusual circumstances, NYSUT activists and legislative staffers were able to get some important bills through the Legislature this year. Here are a handful of examples of bills lawmakers passed that await the governor’s action.

Admission to ed programs Both the Assembly and the state Senate passed a bill to amend the education law by removing the requirement that applicants must have a 3.0 GPA as an undergrad to be admitted into graduate-level teacher and leader education programs.

There is no evidence that GPA requirements significantly predict college success or excellence in teaching. A range of factors are at play in the development of our best prospective teachers. Many candidates’ grades were skewed last semester due to the pandemic; their prospects should not suffer through circumstances beyond their control.

COVID-19 death benefits Both houses also passed legislation to allow beneficiaries to collect pension death benefits for members of the state and New York City public pension systems who died as a result of their employment as front line workers during the COVID-19 health crisis. The window for collection of these benefits expires Dec. 31.

Since the pandemic, in addition to uniformed and EMS first responders, most people also consider nurses, doctors and teachers to be front line workers — those who selflessly risk their own well-being, even if it means running the risk of dying in the line of duty, to ensure the health, safety and well-being of others.

Aid during pandemic

This bill would ensure that schools that have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will not be penalized and will receive their full apportionment of state aid for the 2019-20 school year.

Flexibility

This bill would ensure flexibility by authorizing school districts and local governments to spend money from reserve funds to address the COVID–19 pandemic, without needing to comply with current requirements during this emergency.

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