Senate Budget Increases School Aid By $514 Million

Stephen M. Saland

March 19, 2007

The Senate today approved it’s 2007-08 State budget plan for education that adds $358 million in school aid, which generates over $514 million on a school year basis, to the Governor’s school aid package to ensure a fair distribution of school aid to districts throughout the State. The budget represents the largest school aid increase in the history of New York.

In addition, the Senate education budget provides greater direct relief for property taxpayers and includes a plan to help students and their families afford the cost of higher education. The Senate budget is only plan that proposed increased assistance for higher education.

"The Senate budget clearly demonstrates our commitment to education and ensuring regional balance and a fair distribution of school aid," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. "The Senate budget invests more in classrooms, teachers and resources to ensure that every school district gets the resources it needs to provide the best quality education for children and lessens the burden on property taxpayers by providing $2.6 billion to triple the size of direct property tax rebate checks."

"As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I remain committed to protecting the educational opportunities for all students in the State," said Senator Steve Saland. "I am encouraged that the Senate budget not only includes record amounts of school aid, but makes significant improvements to the Governor's Foundation Aid formula to ensure a more equitable distribution of school aid is delivered to school districts statewide."

The Senate’s infusion of school aid dollars will both meet the mandate of the Court of Appeals decision in CFE v The State of New York, and will provide school districts with a fair, transparent and predictable aid program that properly reflects the needs of students and taxpayers across the entire State.

The Senate budget adds $192 million to significantly improve the distribution of the Governor’s Foundation Aid by enacting the Foundation Plus aid formula. The school aid formula proposed in the Executive Budget would have placed 304 school districts (45 percent of the schools in the State) on a permanent save harmless. The Senate Foundation Plus plan significantly improves on the Executive plan and places only 83 school districts on save harmless in 2007-08; this number will decline to 70 by 2010-2011.

Specifically, the Senate education budget --
> Adds $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;
> Provides for current year state aid payments for High Cost special education children beginning in the 2008-09 school year;
> Adds $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 Foundation Aid proposal;
> The Senate reestablishes the Tax Limitation Aid formula which was proposed to be consolidated by the Governor and provides $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;
> The Senate accepts the Executive's proposal on transportation aid, BOCES, private excess cost aid, and special services aid;
> The Senate concurs with the Executive's proposal to provide per pupil increases for Textbook Aid (95 cents per student) and Library Materials Aid (25 cents per student) as well as provide an additional tier worth $6.2 million in hardware technology aid for nonpublic schools.
> The Senate rejects the Executive’s Contract for Excellence proposal and substitutes the Senate’s Leading Educational Achievement for Results Now (LEARN). The LEARN program creates the Office of Educational Accountability (OEA) to promote educational achievement across the State.
> Specifically the LEARN plan includes the following: 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;
> The Senate concurs with the Executive's proposal to increase the cap on charter schools from 100 to 250 with the Chancellor, SUNY and the State Board of Regents each given the authorization to approve 50 new charter schools. The Senate also provides a total of $22 million in additional funds, $7 million more than proposed by the Governor, to expand the school districts which are eligible for charter school transition aid; and
> The Senate adds $5 million for libraries bringing total library aid to $102.2 million.
Providing greater tax relief for property taxpayers
The Senate budget provides $2.6 billion in property tax relief that would triple the size of direct tax rebate checks to all homeowners, growing to $3.4 billion next year.

"Last year, we provided approximately $875 million in direct property tax relief. The rebate program was very successful," Senator Bruno said. "However, there were two concerns -- the size of the checks and the ability of taxpayers to affect local tax rates. The Senate budget plan addresses those concerns by tripling the size of the average rebate check and establishing a process that will allow local taxpayers to have more say in controlling local tax rates. We are building on what we accomplished last year and continuing to return the state’s budget surplus to the taxpayers."

Making College More Affordable

The Senate budget includes $129 million to expand eligibility for the State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and increase awards, including doubling the minimum TAP award, enhancing the tuition tax credit for families, establishing a student loan debt relief program, providing assistance to help veterans afford college tuition and creating a math, science and engineering technology retention initiative for New York students.

The Senate higher education budget highlights includes:
> raises the minimum TAP award for families with dependent
students from $500 to $1,000;
> increases dependent students household eligibility cap for TAP from $80,000 to $100,000 net taxable income;
> increases deductible tuition expenses for New York families from $10,000 to $14,000;
> provides tax credit of up to $1,000 for students who stay in NYS and make less than $50,000 per year to help pay student loans, for up to 5 years;
> provides $1,000 in state grants each year to 1,000 new undergrad or grad students living in NYS with a degree in math, science or engineering technology who are employed in those fields in NYS; and
> increases maximum tuition grant to veterans from $2,000 to $4,350 or the equivalent rate at SUNY schools.
The Senate budget also provides an additional $3.78 million for independent colleges and universities (BUNDY) aid.

"With such an importance being placed on having the skills necessary to compete in today’s knowledge-based economy, obtaining a college degree has never been more critical," Senator Bruno said. "However, educating our students should not break the family budget. These initiatives will ensure greater access to quality higher education opportunities by making college more affordable for students and their families."

"As Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, ensuring greater accessibility to our colleges and universities has always been a priority of mine," said Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson). "The initiatives proposed in the Senate budget build on my efforts to promote access to quality and affordable higher education opportunities.

"Education opens doors that may otherwise be closed," continued Senator LaValle. "We need to help people keep pace with increasing tuition costs so that they are able to pursue their higher education goals. The Senate higher education assistance plan makes a solid investment in education that is critical to improving New Yorkers' quality of life and to ensuring that the state remains economically competitive well into the future."

In order to increase accountability in the TAP program, the Senate budget discontinues TAP awards for students who default on student loans. The Senate also strengthens academic and "progress toward degree completion" requirements under TAP and requires that institutions meet new certification requirements. These accountability measures represent $14.6 million in savings in SFY 2007-08.