Education advocates largely praised the tentative $147-billion state-budget agreement that left Albany maintaining its share of costs for the City University of New York and Medicaid that Governor Cuomo previously proposed to shift to the de Blasio administration.
The spending plan for the new state fiscal year that began April 1 was passed by the State Legislature early that morning. It includes a 6.5-percent increase in funding for K-12 schools to $24.8 billion and would hike higher-education spending by 2 percent, allowing CUNY and the State University of New York to freeze tuition for one year.
PSC Not Happy
But the Professional Staff Congress, which is in mediation with CUNY over stalled negotiations for its members who have worked since 2010 under an expired contract, remained frustrated that the framework didn’t appear to set aside enough money to reach an agreement.
Mr. Cuomo’s budget proposal initially contained $240 million to settle back pay and raises for CUNY employees, but university administrators said at least $330 million was needed. The PSC noted the final version had no funding for this purpose.
PSC President Barbara Bowen said she was awaiting the final details, but cited officials who said the money would instead be provided once the union and CUNY reached a contract.
“We want to hold the state to its word and make sure that the state does address an agreement when we reach one,” she said. She added that the union also advocated for more money from Albany that would have been raised by the tuition hikes, as well as “maintenance of effort” language to create a more-stable funding source for the university. She said the union was still organizing for a strike-authorization vote.
More than 40 members were arrested during a March 24 “die-in” at Mr. Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
Battle Lies Ahead
“Together we forced a reversal in the proposal to reduce or transfer responsibility for state funding for CUNY, and we came close to achieving funding for our contract,” she wrote in a letter to her members. “But we have not won that battle yet. The PSC will build on the power we have developed, starting today.”
United University Professions President Fred Kowal, whose union represents SUNY instructors, said the budget was a “start.”
“On one hand we really did not, once again, get the amount of funding that SUNY needs,” he said. “However, in specific areas, we did OK.”
The package restored an $18.6-million subsidy for public hospitals and provided money for educational-opportunity programs. He said that UUP and SUNY both requested $73 million to cover some collective-barganing costs, most of which wasn’t included in the package.
More Aid for Schools
Education advocates were also pleased by a large increase for schools statewide. The budget provided a $627-million increase in Foundation Aid, $340 million for the state’s universal pre-kindergarten expansion and $434 million to pay off the Gap Elimination Adjustment—a figure that reflects money cut by former Gov. David Paterson and Mr. Cuomo in the wake of the financial crisis. The figure also includes $2 billion from the Smart Schools Bond Act for technology and infrastructure upgrades, and $175 million to turn struggling schools into community schools that offer “wraparound” services such as health-care.
“The Gap Elimination is gone, there’s a significant increase in Foundation Aid, and there’s more support for higher-education-opportunity programs, and increased support for our community colleges,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “While the Regents’ state-aid proposal would have gone farther, we’re grateful to the Governor and both houses of the Legislature for the work they did to support education.”
The school negotiations were absent last year’s drama that included proposals by the Governor to tie more funding to increased probationary periods for tenure and to make Teacher evaluations more stringent. The New York State United Teachers said it was still awaiting the details, but was encouraged by the results.
“While additional time is needed to examine the fine print of budget bills, it appears that parents and Teachers, advocating together on behalf of students and public education, have won a robust state-aid increase and new funding to expand pre-kindergarten; community schools and other essential programs,” said its president, Karen E. Magee.
More Charter Spending
The budget also didn’t include the Education Investment Tax Credit for those who donate to private and religious schools, a proposal unpopular with education unions. Still, charter-school spending will rise by $430 per pupil to $14,457 and a provision that forces the city to find spaces in for charters or pay their rents was made permanent. The union said it would continue to push for more money directed to struggling schools.
“For Teachers and public education, however, the tone is changing in Albany, and that enables us to move forward with the wind at our backs,” Ms. Magee said.
But the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education said the state still owed $4.4 billion under the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement involving chronic underfunding of poor districts. “This budget fails to address fundamental educational inequality based on both race and income,” said Billy Easton, the group’s executive director. “The Foundation Aid increase simply does not come close to meeting the needs for the one-out-of-two students living in poverty or to reversing the racial inequities that are entrenched in our educational system.”