State budget delivers 'historic levels' of school aid
The state budget deal reached on April 7 provides a 4% increase in state aid for New York City schools, the first-ever modification of Tier 6 to enhance benefits, and financial support for several of the UFT’s proven education initiatives.
“Gov. Hochul and the legislature invested in public schools and in the educators and staff who have been there for our students during the pandemic,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Albany delivered on historic levels of education funding, including funds for additional mental health support in schools.”
Hundreds of UFT members participated in a week of virtual advocacy in March to make the case to their state representatives for more state support for city public schools.
The budget provides New York City with $475 million more in school aid for the fiscal year that began on April 1, including a $309 million boost over the previous year in foundation aid for schools in the neediest districts in New York City over the previous year.
The final spending plan includes $21.4 million for Teacher Centers statewide and an additional $450,000 for the union’s United Community Schools program.
Lawmakers approved $100 million, spread over two years, for school districts to address student mental-health issues and learning loss related to the pandemic. The funds can be used to hire more mental health professionals, provide mental health support for both students and staff, and pay for additional summer learning and after-school programs.
Following a coordinated lobbying campaign by state and city unions, the budget includes two reforms to Tier 6, the pension tier that DOE employees hired after April 1, 2012, belong to. They are the first changes ever passed to the decade-old retirement plan that was pushed through by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
One reform allows all members of Tier 6 — including 51,000 employees represented by the UFT — to have the service time before their pensions vest reduced from 10 years to 5 years, which is the norm for most public employees enrolled in older tiers. The same five-year vesting now applies to Tier 4 members hired after Dec. 10, 2009, too.
In the second change, the contribution rates to the pension system for Tier 6 members from April 1, 2022, to April 12, 2024, will be determined on base pay only earned between April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2022, not including overtime that would penalize members who put in extra time to help their students during the pandemic.
Mulgrew praised state lawmakers for taking steps “toward making retirement for educators and public employees fairer with initial reforms to the pension system.”
Under the budget, the annual earnings limit of $35,000 was also waived through June 30, 2023, for any retiree working in a public school.
Starting Aug. 1, subsidized child care slots will be provided to families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level, up from the current ceiling of 200%. Child care providers, including the 6,000 home-based child care providers represented by the UFT, will see an increase in the state reimbursement rate for their subsidized child care slots. That market-rate payment, based on a survey of rates around the state, will now be equal to or more than the rate charged by 80% of providers. The union had lobbied for more state support, arguing that too many child care providers cannot sustain their services due to the exorbitant costs of resources and a depleted workforce.