Senate Majority Preserves Education Funding

Malcolm A. Smith

April 02, 2009

Senate holds the line on funding for every region of the state; for the first time in modern history SUNY and CUNY keep returns on tuition increases

(Albany, NY) The New York State Senate, in working diligently with the Governor and Assembly, succeeded in restoring vital resources to school districts statewide, and the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY). Faced with the most challenging economic conditions in nearly three-quarters of a century, this year’s education budget marked a significant break from past practice, with every region of the state, including Upstate, Long Island and New York City, all receiving fair funding at no other region’s expense because every child deserves a sound education.

Furthermore, for the first time in modern history a plan has been adopted to return annually increasing percentages of SUNY and CUNY tuition increases directly to those public systems. Under the former Majority, 100% of tuition increases approved in 1998 and 2000 were put into the State’s general fund instead of being invested back into higher education. The Senate Majority ensured that 50% of tuition increases will be reinvested back into SUNY and CUNY over time in a fair and equitable manner.

In all, the Enacted Budget includes $21.9 billion for K-12 education, a $405 million or 1.9 percent increase. Through the use of federal stimulus funds, the legislature eliminated the proposed $1.1 billion Deficit Reduction Assessment (DRA).

Foundation Aid will be maintained at current levels of $14.9 billion. The restorations will help districts avert massive layoffs, increased class sizes and program cuts. Regrettably, the four-year scheduled phase-in of full funding of Foundation aid must be delayed due to the lack of additional funding as a result of the economic downturn. However, full implementation will occur in 2013-14, a year earlier than the Executive’s proposal at the request of the Senate Majority.

The Senate Majority also fought for the elimination of the proposed Pre-School Special Education cost shift to school districts which will save districts $138 million in 2009-10. The spending plan fully funds expense based aids, including transportation (+102.9 million), BOCES/Special Services Aid (+53.8 million), Private Excess Cost Aid (+25 million) and Building Aid (+204 million). The budget also provides $375 million for Universal Pre-K.

Additional funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for Title I ($454 million) and IDEA ($398 million) will further increase New York’s investment in education.

Suzi Oppenheimer, Chair of the Senate Education Committee commented, "Our priority was to restore funding to the cuts in the proposed budget and prevent the layoff of teachers, increase in class size, and damage to education programs that major reductions would have created. We have tried our best to maintain the foundation aid program, Universal Pre-K and are committed to working with districts on changes in law to reduce costs between now and the end of session."

In terms of higher education, the Senate rejected a proposed cut of $49 million to SUNY and CUNY community colleges, which would have stifled this year’s investment in those systems, which in total is $3.9 billion: $2.5 billion for SUNY community colleges and $1.4 billion for CUNY community colleges. Another proposed cut of $270 to base aid for full-time equivalents at community colleges was also fully restored by the Senate.

"Restoring funds to the Higher Education budget is not only a down payment on a student's future, it is also an investment in the state's economy. During these times of economic uncertainty, enrollment is increasing and the legislature recognizes the important role higher education plays in our economic recovery," said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Under an historic deal brokered by the Senate Majority, 20 percent of this year’s SUNY increases will return to that system, raised to 30 percent next year, 40 percent in 2011-12 and 50 percent in 2012-13. This is the first time in recent decades that the Senate voted to invest any percentage of SUNY tuition increases back into public higher education.

"This was a difficult budget, but our priorities are correct and our commitment to education will be vital to turning our economy around. We recognized that no smart economic development plan can be effective without a strong investment in education," said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. "Education in New York is an economic driving force and the quality of schooling in this state should never be compromised. A school system that produces talented and well-qualified workers is an invaluable resource that will encourage companies to locate and invest in New York."

Furthermore, opportunity programs such as HEOP and EOP were kept at last year’s levels while $3.6 million in proposed cuts to the C-STEP program was restored. The Senate and Assembly were also able to restore $49.9 million in proposed cuts to the Tuition Assistant Program (TAP) to protect the ability of working adults in obtaining a quality, affordable education.

One of the most significant new components of this year’s education budget is the establishment of NYHELPS, a college loan program that will allocate $350 million to help 45,000 resident students enroll in a college or university in New York each year.

"Despite the threat of a worst-case scenario, we were able to assure that children and college students will continue to receive the high-quality, diversified education that has always been a hallmark of our great state," said Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.