Education Proposals Include More Programs; Questions of Enough Funding Remain

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The Governor’s proposed budget contained details on education spending.

As I stated last week, this was a status quo budget that does not change the state aid distribution formula which puts lower-wealth school districts at a disadvantage. The Governor proposes to spend $21.9 billion in total state school aid out of the $137.2 billion total budget. I wanted to provide more of a breakdown for the education aspects of the budget in this column.

Next week, I will provide more details on proposals for public safety, environmental conservation, and economic development.

Budget hearings have begun, and education budget hearings primarily focused on the shaky rollout of Common Core.

The following are aspects of the Governor’s proposed budget concerning education that I support:

• Slowing down the implementation of Common Core. In fact, I am proposing legislation that will put a three-year moratorium on many aspects of Common Core, including the controversial measure of tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

• Increasing school aid by $807 million.

• Providing Teacher Excellence grants that will allow school districts to reward teachers who earn a “highly effective” rating on their Annual Professional Performance Review. Preference will be given to schools with the greatest academic need, and difficult-to-staff subjects.

• Investing in a new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity SUNY school.

• Increasing the Tuition Assistance Program. This is needed due to increase in student enrollment and higher tuition costs. TAP is a scholarship for low-income earners.

The following are the Governor’s proposals that are either problematic or need additional discussion:

• Creating an all day Pre-K program across the state. While I see the benefits of having such a program available, I fear it will become an unfunded mandate for school districts and taxpayers. Reports vary on how much this will cost the state on an annual basis. In fact, the State Education Commissioner estimates it to be at $1.6 billion annually but the Governor proposes only to allocate $1.5 billion over five years, including $100 million for it this year.

• Cutting funding for libraries by $4 million. At a time when library use is at a record high, it is contrary to common sense to propose a cut. I am hopeful that through negotiations, we can work to change this.

• While the governor is proposing to increase state aid to schools, his proposal  still doesn’t bring the funding level in line with where districts were prior to 2010, when school aid was cut due to state budgetary constraints. These reductions in school spending forced districts to make staff reductions and programming cuts. If we are indeed experiencing a surplus, we should restore funding rather than create new programs. Federal stimulus funds that helped reduce the effects are no longer available to districts.

• Investing in technology. Clearly, we need to bring our school’s classrooms up to date with better teaching tools and technology. However, the Governor is proposing that the state take $2 billion more in debt to fund these upgrades. More needs to be understood about this proposal–that is, what are the costs benefits of taking on this amount of debt.

Overall, I would like to see more funding for lower-wealth school districts, which experienced the heaviest hits in 2010.
I hope that through budget negotiations, we can get a budget for education that is equitable and that directs money towards programs that will ensure that our children have the opportunity for an excellent education.

If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.