Who were the big education winners in the state budget? Charters and community schools
One year after New York’s state budget negotiations turned into a drag-out fight over teacher evaluations, lawmakers came to a less controversial deal that will send more money to New York City’s district and charter schools.
All told, education spending is set to increase by $1.3 billion, officials said Thursday evening, a figure that falls $800 million short of what the Assembly and many advocates had hoped for but will allow school budgets to continue to grow.
Charter schools will get their own big boosts: Schools across the state will receive $430 more per student, and the rule requiring New York City to help some charter schools pay rent will become permanent.
And in a move that symbolizes recent shifts in state education policy, up to $175 million will be directed toward turning struggling schools into “community schools,” borrowing a school-improvement strategy that Mayor Bill de Blasio has favored.
“I believe that this is the best plan that the state has produced, if it’s passed, in decades, literally,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, who later called the budget “the largest single investment in education in the history of the state of New York, period.”
Here’s what else you need to know about the deal, which is likely to come to a final vote Friday.
Overall education funding: A billion-plus boost
New York is set to spend $24.8 billion on education aid next year — a $1.3 billion increase.
It’s more than the $1 billion increase in education spending that Gov. Cuomo proposed in January. That is good for New York City, which needed more than what was included in Cuomo’s plan to balance its education budget, according to a March report from the city’s Independent Budget Office, though it remains unclear whether the additional $300 million will be enough to cover the costs.
The raise continues years of school aid increases, and will push New York’s per-student spending even higher than its current average of $19,818.
But advocates pushing for the state to meet its funding commitments under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit were disappointed again. (The state would need to pay $4.4 billion to meet the lawsuit’s demands.) The number also falls short of the Democrat-ledAssembly’s proposal for a $2.1 billion jump.
“This budget fails to address fundamental educational inequality based on both race and income,” said Billy Easton, the executive director for the Alliance for Quality Education.
Community schools: A new statewide priority
The budget includes $175 million in funding to help struggling schools offer services like health care and after-school programs. That money will be targeted carefully at schools that need it most, not just at needy districts, Cuomo said.
“The priority should be the schools that need the most help in this state,” Cuomo said.
The details of the community school funding are still unclear. Advocates said some of the $175 million could be included within the Foundation Aid, the $600-million-plus portion of the education spending that favors low-income districts.
Still, the total is notable, and signals that the state’s budget has shifted from focusing on new policies meant to increase accountability for low-performing schools to one that focuses on providing specific resources to those schools.
The budget also includes $20 million for an initiative to help boys and young men of color, according to an Assembly spokesman.
Charter schools: More funding will flow
Charter schools got a big boost. The budget deal included $54 million to increase the amount charter schools receive per student, a number double what Cuomo proposed. That amounts to a $430 increase per student next year.
The increase earned plaudits from charter advocates, but is unlikely to please the state’s teachers union, whose executive vice president called the increased support for charter schools a “radical, last-minute change” in an email to members on Wednesday.
Officials did not mention a number of other proposals that have been floated during the budget negotiations on Thursday night, including a measure to withhold funding from charter schools that fail to serve a high percentage of high-needs students. In January, Gov. Cuomo had also proposed un-freezing the formula that determines most charter school funding for New York City charter schools, rather than simply increasing per-student spending.
‘Receivership’ and teacher evaluations: No changes
Cuomo left the impression that two education measures that dominated the attention of state lawmakers last year were left untouched: the “receivership” law that outlines how low-performing schools could be put under the control of an outside leader or group, and the teacher evaluation law.
Last year, lawmakers increased the weight of state test scores in teacher evaluations. But after that sparked significant backlash, the Board of Regents passed an emergency regulation that decoupled test scores from evaluations.
The governor said the receivership law was not changed and that education funding will still be dependent on districts creating teacher evaluation plans, signaling no major changes to either law snuck into the budget deal.
Cuomo’s unwillingness to revisit either receivership or teacher evaluations is one sign of how unpopular the two issues have become.
The Gap Elimination Adjustment: Gone
That funding cut, which has had a greater impact on higher-income districts than on low-income districts like New York City, is gone, to no one’s surprise. The Senate, Assembly, and the governor all proposed ending the spending gap, which was put in place during the financial crisis.
This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on April 1.