2016-17 state budget includes $1.5 billion education funding increase, end to GEA
April 6, 2016
On Friday, April 1, New York lawmakers approved a 2016-17 state budget that includes an overall $1.5 billion – or 6.5 percent – increase in education funding. The state budget increases foundation aid – the primary source of funding for everyday school operations – by $627 million, or 4 percent.
For Watervliet, the increase in foundation aid equals approximately $299,000, which is more than the allocation proposed by Governor Cuomo in his executive budget in January.
“While we are very appreciative of the bump in foundation aid, we remain cautious about celebrating too quickly,” said Superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan. “As we continue to develop our district budget, we are reminded that the virtually zero percent tax levy cap significantly limits our ability to generate any additional revenue that may be required to balance the budget.”
The state budget also brings to an end the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure that has diverted billions of dollars from schools during the last seven years. The demise of the GEA is welcome news to school districts across New York, especially those considered to be average- to low-need. The state restored the bulk of its GEA deduction to high-need districts for the current 2015-16 budget cycle, including Watervliet, which received a 95 percent restoration, or $338,297, of its GEA. The balance, approximately $17,000, will be restored in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Dr. Caplan noted that over the years since the GEA was enacted, Watervliet lost approximately $4.5 million in total, funding the district will never fully recover.
The Board of Education invites parents, faculty, staff, students and community members to the annual budget breakfast on Saturday, April 9 at 9 a.m. in the conference room at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School. Light breakfast fare prepared by students in the Food & Nutrition class will be served as district officials share updated information on 2016-17 school budget development.
More 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 revenues that are critical to developing school budgets for the 2016-17 school year.
The majority 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 such costs as transportation, construction and BOCES services.
The budget also includes targeted funding for community schools in low-performing districts, an expansion of the statewide prekindergarten initiative for 3-year-olds and an increase in financial support for charter schools.
GEA eliminated, Foundation Aid increased
The state instituted the GEA in 2009-10 to help address its own budget shortfalls brought on by the fiscal crisis at that time. Since then, school districts have lost a specified amount of state aid annually through the GEA. The end of it means that state aid will not be reduced in this manner in 2016-17, an effective increase in funding that totals $434 million statewide.
Although the $627 million increase in Foundation Aid is the largest since the fiscal crisis began, it is 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 revenues to keep up with general operating cost increases in many districts.
Other 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 eliminate 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-need 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.