A legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
At approximately 3 a.m. on April 1, the New York State Assembly passed the last of 12 bills that make up New York’s 2015-16 budget.
The state Senate had passed the legislation about four hours earlier.
While technically not on time (pursuant to our state constitution, the budget is required to be completed before April 1) for all practical purposes, New York has its fifth timely budget.
This year’s budget deliberations were more complicated than those in the past mainly due to the Governor’s insistence on tying contentious public policy proposals to appropriations, making it difficult for the legislature to soften or even reject what the Governor proposed.
On the positive side of the ledger, this budget keeps state spending in check and, for the most part, does not raise taxes.
On the negative side, the budget provides little or no relief for our overtaxed citizens and businesses.
In my mind, there are three issues that define this budget:
(i) the Governor’s so-called education reform;
and (iii) capital spending.
The education part of the budget is discussed below.
I will provide my thoughts on ethics, capital spending, and other parts of the budget in future columns.
When the Governor proposed his budget back in January, he tied an increase in state education aid to the implementation of a teacher evaluation system that would use high-stakes student testing as a criteria for evaluation.
From the time he first proposed this, I have heard from teachers, parents and even students who have expressed their opposition, at least at this time, to using state testing to evaluate teachers’ performance.
I happen to agree and accordingly, for this reason, voted against the education portion of this year’s budget.
As a general matter, there is nothing inherently wrong with state tests.
Indeed, they may be a good mechanism to diagnose how a student is doing and to evaluate how a school is doing in comparison to other schools.
That being said, to judge teachers, at this time, on how students do on state testing is unfair.
The tests are based on the common core curriculum that has just been instituted in New York and in many other states across the U.S.
The implementation in New York was done in a rush manner and both students and teachers are still struggling to understand the new teaching methods.
In addition, currently, a student’s performance on a state test can depend on a number of factors well outside a teacher’s control, factors such as parental involvement, a student’s familiarity with the common core curriculum, and even socio-economic standing.
Until we have the system fully in place, and we can accurately judge its effectiveness, it is premature to hold teachers strictly responsible for how students perform on these tests.
On a more positive note, this year’s budget substantially increases state education aid.
Specifically, the budget increases education aid by approximately $1.3 billion for a total of $23.05 billion.
A substantial amount of this increase, $603 million, goes to restore aid to schools that unduly suffered as a result of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
The state implemented GEA several years ago in response to severe budget constraints.
Low-wealth rural schools took the brunt of the GEA and therefore will benefit the most from the reinstatement of the aid, which is a very good thing for the schools in my district.
On another positive note, this year’s budget increases funding for libraries more substantially.
This builds on the State Legislature’s recent history of passing increases to library aid, as library usage throughout the state has increased substantially.
This year, aid to library was increased by $5 million for a total of $91.6 million.
While in the overall budget, which is approximately $150 billion, this amount does not seem like a lot, it is substantial for the libraries and the thousands of New Yorkers who take advantage of what our libraries have to offer.
I look forward to sharing more details on this year’s state budget in future columns.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.