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State budget spares schools from cuts

New York Teacher

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking economic havoc, the UFT successfully avoided large-scale cuts to public school funding in the New York State budget signed on April 3 for the upcoming fiscal year.

The $177 billion spending package holds foundation aid — designated for schools in the state’s neediest areas — at the same level statewide as the previous year. New York City public schools will receive a total of $11.34 billion in state aid, a reduction of only 0.2% from the previous year.

“This budget avoids the wholesale gutting of public education that we feared — and the layoffs that would have come with it,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We will face more hard economic times as the pandemic peaks here in New York and in the recovery that follows. But we will get through it together.”

The spending plan does, however, grant the governor the power to unilaterally cut spending at different points during the year if tax revenues fall short of projections.

The state began the year facing a $6 billion budget gap, but by the time lawmakers voted on the final budget, officials projected a $10-15 billion shortfall resulting from an economy brought to a near halt to constrain the coronavirus. A large education cut was averted when the U.S. Congress passed a coronavirus relief package in March that provided New York State with about $5 billion, including $1.1 billion to support K–12 education in the state.

“New York State wisely used the federal stimulus money to protect education, including the Teacher Centers, which are an even more critical source of information and technical support as we engage in distance learning,” said Mulgrew.

Teacher Centers were fully funded in the budget. They received $14.3 million statewide, of which

$6 million will go to UFT Teacher Centers.

In addition, the budget funded New York City community schools at the same level as last year: $117.7 million.

The executive budget had proposed using the state budget process to reissue 18 unused or suspended charters for charter schools in New York City — so-called “zombie charters” — but the final spending plan did not include that provision. The state budget provides New York City charter schools with an estimated $138 million less than what was proposed in January.

The attempt to consolidate 10 expense-based aid programs also did not make it into the final budget, which UFT Political Director Cassie Prugh described as “a win for career and technical education and special education among others.” She said the proposal to roll those programs into foundation aid “would have certainly reduced support for these programs, but instead they are fully funded.”

This story was first published on UFT.org on April 7, 2020.