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2016-17 State Budget includes $1.5 billion education funding increase, end to GEA

on April 6, 2016

New York lawmakers approved a 2016-17 state budget on April 1 that includes an overall $1.5 billion – or 6.5 percent – increase in education funding. But, more importantly for Warwick schools, the new state budget ends the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment), which has diverted billions of dollars from schools during the last seven years.

Warwick administrators, Board of Education members, Fair Funding for Our Schools and community members have worked tirelessly over the last seven years advocating for an end to the GEA, which has cost the district $17.3 million to date. This included participation in several large public advocacy events, some hosted by Fair Funding – the advocacy group started by Warwick Board of Education members – and numerous letters to and meetings with local legislators asking that these funds be returned to schools.

The state instituted the GEA in 2009-10 to help address its own budget shortfalls brought on by the fiscal crisis at that time. This is money that was promised to schools and could have been used to finance local educational programs.

During four months of debate and negotiations in Albany, state lawmakers voted to finally end the GEA altogether, which will restore $434 million to schools overall next fiscal year.

Altogether, the Warwick Valley Central School District will receive $25,048,728 in state aid for 2016-17 – an increase of $1,247,484 or 5.24 percent over the current school year. Additionally, the district will receive $77,035 as a “final GEA payment” from the state.

While Warwick schools will never recover the $17.3 million lost since the 2009-10 school year, an end to the GEA will enable the district to use the restored aid it will receive in 2016-17 to help support its educational programming.

“We appreciate the efforts of the state Legislature in restoring the GEA now, instead of over a two-year period as originally proposed by Governor Cuomo,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach. “I’d like to also thank Fair Funding, our Board of Education and the Warwick community, who continued to push year after year for an end to the GEA, while the district worked to strategically maintain and enhance the academic program for our students.”

The administration and Board of Education continue to develop a budget for the 2016-17 school year. Budget adoption is expected by April 18. A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, May 9, at the Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, adjacent to the middle school. The annual budget vote is Tuesday, May 17, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., at three polling places: Election District 1 – Pine Island Firehouse; Election District 2 – Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center; and Election District 3 – the former Kings Elementary School on Kings Highway. Please check the district website and your mail for budget updates over the next two months.

More information on the state budget
The Legislature’s vote on the budget came on the first day of the state’s new fiscal year. The finalized spending plan provides school districts with information about state aid revenue that is critical as they develop school budgets for the 2016-17 school year.

The bulk of the state aid increase will be split in three ways: a $627 million increase in Foundation Aid, $434 million to end the GEA and $341 million to reimburse schools for costs such as transportation, construction and BOCES services.

The budget also includes targeted funding for community school efforts in designated districts, an expansion of the statewide prekindergarten initiative for 3-year-olds and an increase in financial support for charter schools.

The $627 million, or 4 percent, increase in Foundation Aid – the primary source of funding for everyday school operations – is the largest since the fiscal crisis began. However, it is also well below the New York State Board of Regents’ recommendation of a $1.3 billion Foundation Aid increase for next year. Included in the approved increase is $100 million for community schools initiatives in various districts across the state.

The Regents have highlighted the important role state aid will play in the year ahead due to the restrictive tax levy cap schools are facing. Due to low inflation last year, districts were required to plug a near-zero growth factor into the tax levy cap formula. This limits the availability of local revenue to keep up with cost increases in many districts.

Additional education policies and funding in the budget

The 2016-17 state budget also includes, or in some cases does not include, several other noteworthy items related to education:

  • Teacher/Principal Evaluations: The budget did not remove the requirement that, in order for schools to receive their state aid increases for this year and next, they must comply with the changes enacted last year to the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law. APPR governs teacher and principal evaluations. Under the current law, districts must have an approved plan that meets the latest iteration of APPR regulations by Sept. 1, 2016, in order to receive state aid increases for both 2015-16 and 2016-17. Many districts are currently operating with waivers from last year’s changes and had advocated for action in the state budget to remove the possibility of losing aid due to APPR.
  • Community Schools: The budget includes $175 million to help implement community schools initiatives in certain designated high-needs districts and for schools that have been identified as failing by the state. Community school efforts can include academic, health and social services for students and families. As noted above, $100 million of this funding is from an increase included in Foundation Aid for certain schools.
  • Charter Schools: The state budget includes nearly $55 million in additional support for charter schools statewide through an increase of $430 per pupil to a total of $14,457. This represents growth of 3 percent in per pupil funding.
  • STAR: The state budget does not cap annual growth in the School Tax Relief (STAR) program at zero percent, as proposed by the governor in January.
  • Universal Prekindergarten: The budget continues an annual investment of $340 million to support prekindergarten programs across the state and calls for an expansion for 3-year-olds. As of this school year, 460 of the state’s 674 school districts offer prekindergarten slots to 120,582 children.

Additional resources

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders announce agreement on 2016-2017 state budget:
http://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-announce-agreement-2016-2017-state-budget

Senate passes 2016-17 state budget that creates better economic opportunities for all New Yorkers:
https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senate-passes-2016-17-state-budget-creates-better-economic-opportunities-all

State budget helps New Yorkers climb the ladder of economic opportunity:
http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160401d/

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