State Budget/Legislative Issues

State Budget Testimony

Budget Testimony Before New York State Legislative Fiscal and Education Committees – January 26, 2022

Presented By:
Jennifer K. Pyle, Executive Director
Conference of Big 5 School Districts

Good afternoon.  My name is Jennifer Pyle.  I serve as Executive Director of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, representing the Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany, Mount Vernon, and Utica City School Districts. Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to testify before you today and for your steadfast commitment to serving the needs of urban education in New York State.

I want to take a moment to thank you for your extraordinary efforts resulting in the Foundation Aid phase-in and allocation of the federal resources necessary to enable school districts to meet pressing COVID-related needs. We are pleased that the Executive Budget maintains the promised Foundation Aid phase-in and full funding for expense based aids. This is particularly important as school districts continue to face a plethora of uncertainties related to the pandemic including potential losses in Transportation Aid due to shifts to a remote platform.  We call upon you to hold school districts harmless from Transportation Aid losses and to authorize reimbursement for all transportation expenses incurred throughout the entirety of the pandemic. 

We are pleased to see the inclusion of $100 million in funding under the proposed Recover From COVID School Program to support critical social emotional issues and learning loss.  We ask you to make a commitment to extend this support beyond two years as the current funding cliff faced when the federal funds are exhausted is already a significant concern.  Our school districts had monumental needs before the pandemic hit that were not being met and these have only been exacerbated. 

Charter Schools

While we support school choice and affording parents the option to send their children to charter schools, we have serious concerns with regard to the current charter school funding system. Charter school expansion in saturated school districts should be limited and enhanced accountability measures must be applied to charter schools to ensure that enrollment accurately reflects district pupil demographics.  Furthermore, the New York State Board of Regents must be given the final say when it comes to the approval of new or expansion of existing charter schools. All too often, SUNY has failed to adequately review applications and continues to exploit loopholes in the current statute.

We also urge you to increase Supplemental Charter School Tuition reimbursement and accelerate it in order to enable school districts to receive current year reimbursement.

English Language Learners

Several of our eight member school districts have experienced enrollment growth in recent years that can be attributed to pupils who are newly arrived to the United States, including large numbers of refugee students who speak little or no English and are in need of expanded services.  In fact, almost 68% of all English Language Learners are educated in the Big 5. More funding is needed to support additional bilingual teachers, translators and support services, particularly in light of the anticipated policy changes on the federal level given the new administration.

Career and Technical Education

We support the Board of Regents commitment to multiple pathways and enhanced opportunities for all students through the expansion of Career and   Technical Education (CTE) programs.  Our school districts currently operate some of the most innovative and successful CTE programs in the State and we are continuing to grow these programs.  We urge you to invest in Career and Technical Education programs by increasing the Special Services Aid per pupil formula-based funding cap and to align this funding with our Career and Technical Education programs by expanding it to students beginning in grade 9.

Prekindergarten

The Big 5 school districts appreciate the Governor’s ongoing commitment to funding prekindergarten programs in New York State.  Our school districts operate some of the State’s longest running and most successful prekindergarten programs. However, funding levels in many cases have not been adjusted to reflect the actual costs of these vital programs.  The State must commit to fully funding prekindergarten programs for high need urban school districts.

Health and Mental Health Services

Many of our pupils have limited access to health and mental health services outside of the regular school day. Each of our school districts provides valuable health services to their students as required under Education Law. Unfortunately, funding for these services has been frozen for many years and Buffalo and Rochester will experience a reduction in School Health Services Aid under the Governor’s plan. We urge you to restore this cut and provide additional targeted school health funding for all member districts to assist them with increased demands for school health services.

Professional Development and Staffing

Additional resources must be provided to support vital professional development initiatives for teachers and principals. The Big 5 school districts currently receive no targeted State funding for these programs, which are essential to improving instructional quality and student outcomes. 

In addition, we support the Governor’s inclusion of the retiree earning waiver extension and urge you to ensure this is incorporated in the final budget package. This will provide school districts with another avenue by which to pursue filling vacancies in many shortage areas.  We continue to work closely with the State Education Department, along with other stakeholders, to address the teacher shortage crisis.

Building Aid and Transportation Aid Forgiveness

We applaud the Governor for proposing a comprehensive solution related to Building Aid and Transportation Aid forgiveness.  This is long overdue. School districts should not be penalized for clerical errors.  The current piecemeal approach is unduly burdensome to the State and school districts.

Child Nutrition Programs

I would be remiss if I closed without taking time to publicly thank the New York State Education Department, Chancellor Young and Commissioner Rosa for their unwavering commitment to supporting our school districts on a daily basis throughout the entirety of the pandemic.  We urge you to reject the Governor’s proposal to shift the responsibility for the Child Nutrition Programs from The State Education Department to Agriculture and Markets. This change would upend a program that is exceptionally well run and inevitably create unnecessary confusion and strain for school districts.

Thank you, again, for affording me this opportunity to comment on the Executive Budget proposal. I look forward to working with you in the coming weeks and remain available to answer any questions or provide any information that may be of assistance to you. 

Download file here:
2022 State Budget Testimony

2022-2023 State Aid Recommendations

1. Maintain the Commitment to the Foundation Aid Phase-In and Hold School Districts Harmless from Pandemic Related Reductions in Expense-Based Funding
We are pleased that the Executive Budget maintains the commitment to the Foundation Aid phase-in. Going forward, we urge the State to ensure that the Foundation Aid formula is transparent, predictable and captures unique student needs.

We appreciate the Executive Budget’s incorporation of full funding for expense-based aids. These categories of aid should remain linked to actual expenditures. In addition, school districts continue to face a plethora of uncertainties related to the pandemic and should be held harmless from potential losses in expense-based aids including Transportation and Special Services Aids.

2. Limit Charter School Expansion, Repair the Authorization and Funding Systems, and Enhance Accountability and Oversight
Charter school expansion in saturated school districts must be limited and the New York State Board of Regents designated as the sole authorizing authority. The State must also prohibit charter schools from expanding to serve additional grade levels when this would alter the school’s current grade configuration.

In addition, Supplemental Charter School Tuition payments must be reimbursed in the year they are paid. School districts should not be burdened with cash flow struggles and short-term borrowing expenses caused by delayed reimbursement.

Furthermore, an independent entity must be appointed to oversee the dissolution of charter schools to ensure public funds are protected and returned to school districts as required under current statute and charter school reserves must be limited. It is unconscionable to continue to advance public funds to charter schools with reserves, in some cases, in excess of 50-150 percent of their total annual operating budget.

Charter schools must be required to provide school districts with accurate enrollment and attendance information in a timely fashion and a statutory process established whereby school districts may recoup excess charter school payments from prior years.

Lastly, enhanced accountability measures must be applied to charter schools to ensure that enrollment accurately reflects district pupil demographics.

3. Expand Special Services Aid for Career and Technical Education (CTE)
The Big 5 school districts currently operate some of the most innovative and successful CTE programs in the State and continue to grow these programs. The $3,900 per pupil formula-based funding cap under Special Services Aid must be increased and reimbursement adjusted to align with current programs to capture 9th grade students. In addition, more resources should be provided to enable Mount Vernon and Utica to expand in-district Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

4. Fully Fund Prekindergarten Programs in High Need School Districts
The Conference’s school districts operate some of the State’s longest running and most successful Prekindergarten programs. 71% of the State’s Prekindergarteners are educated in the Big 5 school districts. However, funding levels have not been adjusted to capture the actual costs of these vital programs. The State must commit to fully funding full-day Prekindergarten programs for the State’s high need urban school districts and hold school districts harmless from reductions in aid resulting from enrollment declines that can be attributed to the pandemic.

5. Increase School Health Services Funding and Provide Critical Resources to Meet Social Emotional Needs
Many Big 5 pupils have limited access to health and mental health services outside of the regular school day. Each of the Big 5 school districts provide valuable health services to their students as required under Education Law. Unfortunately, funding for these services has been frozen for many years and Buffalo and Rochester will experience a reduction in School Health Services Aid under the Governor’s plan. We urge you to restore this cut and provide additional targeted school health funding for all member districts to assist them with increased demands.

We are pleased to see the inclusion of $100 million in funding under the proposed Recover From COVID School Program to support critical social emotional issues and learning loss. We ask for a commitment to extend this support beyond two years as the current funding cliff faced when the federal funds are exhausted is already a significant concern. Our school districts had monumental needs before the pandemic hit that were not being met and these have only been exacerbated.

6. Increase Funding for Instructional Materials and Permanently Address the Digital Divide
Funding for instructional materials including textbooks, software, hardware and library materials has been frozen for decades. The State must take action to increase aid to ensure school districts have the capacity to provide students with the materials they need and deserve. In addition, school districts must be provided with sustained support to ensure that all students and staff have access to critical technology and connectivity.

7. Provide Forgiveness for Transportation and Building Aid Filing Penalties
We applaud the Governor for proposing a comprehensive solution related to Building Aid and Transportation Aid late filing penalty forgiveness. This is long overdue. School districts should not be penalized for clerical errors. The current piecemeal approach is unduly burdensome to the State and school districts.

8. Provide Additional funding for English Language Learners (ELLs)
The State must provide more support for ELL students through a designated categorical program and an expansion of the weighting for ELL pupils under Foundation Aid. Our eight member school districts serve large numbers of refugee students who speak little or no English and need expanded services. In fact, almost 66% of all English Language Learners are educated in the Big 5. More funding is needed to support additional bilingual teachers, translators and support services.

9. Target Funding for Critical Professional Development
Additional resources must be provided to support ongoing and enhanced professional development initiatives for teachers and principals. The Big 5 school districts currently receive no targeted State funding for these programs, which are essential to improving instructional quality and student outcomes.

In addition, we support the Governor’s inclusion of the retiree earning waiver extension. Such a waiver will provide school districts with another avenue by which to pursue filling vacancies in many shortage areas. We continue to work closely with the State Education Department, along with other stakeholders, to address the teacher shortage and we urge the State to make the required investments and think creatively about providing flexibility.

10. Reimburse Urban School Districts for Transportation of Pupils Below Current Mileage Limits to Keep Students Safe
The current Transportation Aid mileage limitations are not aligned with the conditions in our State’s urban centers. While the State acted last year to address this issue through modifications to school safety zones outside of the Big 5, there was no action taken to afford students in the large cities the same protections. It is imperative that the State address this issue by reimbursing school districts in the Big 5 for school transportation below the current 1.5 mile limit in instances where the State Education Department deems there is a safety issue.

11. Take Action to Afford School Districts the Ability to Maximize Medicaid Dollars
The State must establish a data use agreement between the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Education Department to provide for the sharing of CIN numbers under Medicaid to enable school districts to maximize resources and must take action to authorize Medicaid reimbursement for essential non-IEP services under Free Care.

12. Maintain the State Education Department’s Oversight for Child Nutrition Programs
The Governor’s proposal to shift the responsibility for the Child Nutrition Programs from The State Education Department to Agriculture and Markets must be rejected. This change would upend a program that is exceptionally well run and inevitably create unnecessary confusion and strain for school districts.

13. Reject the Permanent Special Education Cost Shift
The Executive Budget’s proposal to permanently transfer the State's responsibility for maintenance costs of State-operated schools for the blind and deaf to school districts must be rejected. School districts cannot afford to continue to shoulder this increase.

Conference of Big 5 School Districts
17 Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207
Tel: 518-465-4274
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.big5schools.org

2022 District Overview and Data

The Conference of Big 5 School Districts represents the city school districts of Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany, Mount Vernon, and Utica.

  • Our urban school districts enroll 46% of New York State’s public school students.
  • 66% of the State’s English Language Learner pupils are educated in our member districts.
  • 51% of the State’s special education students (ages 5-21) are educated in our city school districts.
  • 71% of New York State’s prekindergarteners are educated in our school districts.
  • The percentages of our pupils with extraordinary needs are: Buffalo 87%; NYC 76%; Rochester 93%; Syracuse 86%; Yonkers 71%; Albany 70%; Mount Vernon 66%; and Utica 88%.
  • The Conference’s school districts have high rates of student mobility, homelessness and students living in temporary shelters.
  • School buildings in our city school districts are older than others in the State and average over 73 years old.

Download the 2022 Overview and Data here.

Educational Conference Board (ECB)

Press Release - Educational Conference Board calls for a $2.1 billion state aid increase for 2020-21 and Foundation Aid to be funded and updated

Picture1For immediate release – November 21, 2109
Contact: ECB Chair John Yagielski, (518) 810-8382, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Organizations outline funding needed to continue current educational services

Based on estimates for educational expenses in the coming year and growing student needs, New York’s major statewide education organizations released a report today detailing the need for a $2.1 billion state aid increase for 2020-21. To read the full report.

The funding increase recommended by the New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB) contains two primary components:

  • $1.6 billion to continue current educational services based on available cost estimates for school expenses in the year ahead; and
  • $500 million for targeted investments in five critical areas: strengthening school safety and mental health services, supporting receivership schools, addressing the cost of providing specialized services such as special education and English as a New Language, college and career pathways, and professional development.

“Schools are focused on meeting the needs of all children while advancing programs and learning opportunities that will prepare them for a changing world,” said ECB Chair John Yagielski. “The state is a critical partner. Based on the latest data, cost estimates and the collective experience of our organizations, this paper identifies the investments it will take and changes required to enable schools to fulfill the vital mission of education.”

The $1.6 billion increase to continue current services is based on cost estimates for 2020-21 in areas such as salaries, pension costs, and health insurance costs from sources such as the State Division of Budget and Teachers’ Retirement System. This figure represents the state funding required to maintain student programs and services after accounting for local revenue that might be raised given the tax cap.

Based on the CPI data for this year so far, ECB is projecting a tax levy growth factor of 1.74 percent in the tax cap formula – meaning schools could again face a limit that is more restrictive than the 2 percent widely associated with the law. The paper includes recommendations to make the tax cap simpler and more predictable for school districts.

Assumed in the $1.6 billion increase is full funding for expense-based reimbursements such as transportation, building and BOCES aids, estimated at $85 million. ECB recommends that the remaining $1.5 billion be put toward Foundation Aid, with no set-asides. As all schools face growing costs, ECB recommends that each district receive a minimum Foundation Aid increase that at least matches the inflation rate.

The ECB paper points out that between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the total number of New York students receiving free or reduced price lunch increased by 15 percent and the number of English language learners and students with disabilities each increased by approximately 18 percent. Meanwhile, the state is $3.4 billion behind what is due to schools in the current year, 2019-20, under the Foundation Aid formula – which was intended to account directly for student needs.

The organizations note that the Foundation Aid increase recommended for 2020-21 would put the state on a trajectory to fully fund the formula in three years. They emphasize the importance of establishing a set timeline for this full phase-in.

The paper includes three longer-term Foundation Aid recommendations designed to update the formula based on current financial and student learning factors: conduct a new cost study to determine the foundation amount per pupil; review and adjust how student needs are accounted for in the formula; and restructure the regional cost index.

ECB notes that schools have made investments in recent years to address the growth in student needs, but cost pressures have made it difficult to both respond to emerging needs and expand learning opportunities for all.

“As schools seek to offer the range of academic programs needed to prepare today’s students for success in tomorrow’s economy, the fact is that it will take more of an investment to get it right,” the paper states.

The New York State Educational Conference Board is comprised of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; the New York State Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; New York State School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers; and the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Download a pdf here

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CONFERENCE OF BIG 5 SCHOOL DISTRICTS
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