Senator Flanagan Fights For More Aid For Long Island Schools To Protect Taxpayers From Increases

John J. Flanagan

March 19, 2007

To make sure that children of Long Island have access to the educational opportunities they deserve, Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) announced that the Senate has added $358 million in school aid to the proposal presented by Governor Eliot Spitzer. This additional funding, which was included in the Senate’s education budget approved this week, will provide Long Island schools with their fair share of school aid.

This funding allocation will greatly assist school districts in offering the highest quality education possible and reduce the burden faced by Long Island taxpayers. Additionally the Senate’s budget also provides an increase in the successful STAR Rebate program of last year.

"Governor Spitzer’s budget is unfair to Long Island schools and to our children. The budget I support provides the funds our districts need to help educate our children and protect our homeowners from having to dig deeper into their pockets. Our parents should not have to mortgage their future to provide a good education for their children," stated Senator Flanagan.

The changes proposed by the Senate plan will bring a total of $463,808,057 to the school districts that Senator Flanagan represents for an increase of $17.5 million over the executive budget. That is an increase of almost 4% in aid over the executive and will help relieve the property tax burden in the area.

Under the plan proposed by Governor Spitzer, over 300 schools throughout the state would have been placed on a newly created permanent save harmless list. The schools on this list would have provided these schools with only a 3 percent minimum annual increases over the next four years. Beyond that, these schools would face flat operating aid from year to year.

The greatest concentration are in the downstate suburban counties (Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Dutchess) where 90 percent of the districts would have been on Governor Spitzer’s save harmless list.

Since this plan would have effected funding for the next few years, accepting this aid formula would mean that most Long Island schools would have received only the minimal increases for the foreseeable future. And this aid package would have ignored factors such as pupil growth and special education demands that would normally be taken into account when calculating funding.

With school district spending increasing at an annual rate of about six percent (based on increased energy, health, pension, and salary costs), the Governor’s budget would have a severe impact on the homeowners of Long Island. According to Senate Finance, this impact could result in taxpayers in the save harmless school districts across the State facing annual double digit property tax increases.

The Senate’s plan will reduce the number of schools that are save harmless to 83 in 2007-08 and to 70 by 2010-2011. It will also meet the terms of the CFE (Campaign for Fiscal Equity) decision and provide school districts with a fair, transparent and predictable aid program that properly reflects the needs of students and taxpayers across the entire State.

"Governor Spitzer claims that his plan is education reform but he is simply transferring the burden from the state to the Long Island taxpayer. Our schools have expenses they must meet and that funding has to come from somewhere. Governor Spitzer may support the idea of asking our homeowners to pay more but I am not. I have repeatedly stated my opposition to shortchanging Long Island to support New York City schools and I will fight to ensure that our schools get the funding they deserve," stated Senator Flanagan.

The Senate budget also calls for:

>Allocating an additional $90 million to fully fund the Public Excess Cost aid formula, ensuring that all schools will receive the reimbursement promised for the 2007-08 school year;

>Providing for current year state aid payments for High Cost special education children beginning in the 2008-09 school year;

>Supplying $25 million for a new version of the traditional growth aid formula to recognize those school districts that are experiencing pupil growth. The Governor proposed to collapse this aid category into his lump sum Foundation Aid proposal;

>Reestablishing the Tax Limitation Aid formula by providing $45 million for those school districts with strong per pupil spending efforts relative to the State and those school districts with substantial tax effort compared to their districts' income. This aid was pushed for by the Senate to assist areas like Long Island;

To enhance the educational opportunities of children when they are not in school, Senator Flanagan calls for adding $5 million in library funding to bring total library aid to $102.2 million.

To increase accountability, the Senate’s budget calls for the Leading Educational Achievement for Results Now (LEARN). This program creates the Office of Educational Accountability (OEA) to promote educational achievement across the State.

Under this plan, each school or district deemed to be "poorly performing" by the OEA would be assigned a "Master Administrator" to help develop a three-year School Improvement Plan.
If after three years the school or district continues to perform poorly, the school or district can be closed by the OEA and reopened under new leadership. If after six years it continues to perform poorly, an "Executive Administrator" would be assigned by the OEA to provide direct management to the school.

To provide needed tax relief for property taxpayers, the budget provides $2.6 billion in property tax relief that would triple the size of direct tax rebate checks to all homeowners. This increase would grow to $3.4 billion next year.

This growth follows the introduction of the STAR Rebate program in 2006 that saw direct rebate checks that in Suffolk County averaged $231 for those who were eligible for Basic School Tax Relief (STAR) and $375 for those who were eligible for the Enhanced STAR benefits.

The Senate’s upgrade of this program would increase these levels significantly within two years. In 2007, the average for a Basic STAR homeowner in Suffolk County would receive a check averaging $694 and that would increase to $925 in 2008. For the senior homeowner who is eligible for the Enhanced STAR benefit, the increased benefit would average $1,125 in 2007 and $1,499 in 2008.

These increases would triple the current rebate/credit program across the state in 2007 and would approximately quadruple it in 2008. The program, which delivered approximately $875 million in tax relief last year, would provide $6 billion in the next two years.

"The relationship between adequate school funding and property tax is unquestionable and that relationship is reflected in this plan. Under Governor Spitzer’s proposed plan, our schools would see less and Long Island taxpayers would be denied access to realistic tax relief. That is not good for our region and is simply unacceptable," stated Senator Flanagan.

The budget of New York is due on April 1 and the Senate’s proposal will be discussed during budget conference committees. The plan will be considered along with the Assembly’s budget plan and the two houses will eventually vote on one agreeable budget which will be delivered to Governor Spitzer.

If you would like to voice your support for Senator Flanagan’s efforts to deliver more for Long Island, please CLICK HEREtoJOIN THE FIGHT.