Government Relations Over the Next Few Months
The work of government relations at SAANYS during this part of the school year turns toward focusing on the state budget and advancing our legislative platform. Article VII of the New York State Constitution requires the governor to submit a budget and needed legislation, which then sets the direction for the first part of the legislative session.
The work on the budget this year is particularly interesting and complex, in that the governor presented two differing scenarios, each relying heavily on an infusion of federal funding. One scenario uses a projected $6 billion and a second scenario is based on $15 billion in federal relief. Basing a budget on an anticipated and illusory amount of federal aid makes analysis a complicated and obtuse exercise. The education portion of the proposed budget uses the $6 billion amount of federal funding as a starting point. During our initial examination of the proposed budget, it was often necessary to remember that a traditional executive proposal was used to frame the state’s responsibility to fund education. This year’s budget, however, was also an exercise in using federal relief to offset decreased state funding to schools. It was critical to discern which parts of education funding were in fact due to increased federal funding and what areas realized a decrease in state support.
Overall, the budget proposal indicates a 7 percent increase in education funding, which at first glance is surprising. This almost seems implausible as districts have far outspend their budget allocations on the pandemic and the state is facing a $40 billion deficit over four years. Upon further analysis it becomes clear that both the CARES Act and CRRSA are used heavily to offset state decreases to education, and further that these federal relief packages are being use entirely in the FY 21and 22 budgets. While use of the federal stimulus money is very much needed, the impact needs to be understood fully. These funds are “one time” relief aid and not steady funding streams. The downside to this approach is the steep cliff that may occur once federal funding is no longer available. Many districts are well aware of the pitfalls of relying on federal funding as a way to work through fiscal challenges. In 2009-2011, NYS relied heavily on ARRA funding and it took over five years to fully restore state funding.
In summary, the overall funding for education increases by 7 percent by using $ 3.8 billion of federal relief funding. There a voluminous components of the proposed executive budget for education that could be discussed, but key areas on which SAANYS will base its advocacy work are as follow:
Flat funding for Foundation Aid – Consolidation of 11 expense-based aids (called Services Aid in the proposed budget), which due to the way the Services Aid is funded results in a $300 million permanent decrease. Further, this funding is reduced by $393 million, resulting in a total decreases to these categories of $700 million and annual cost increases are not used as a factor in the new formula.
Local District Funding Adjustment – Another label for GEA (Gap Elimination Aid), this is a decrease of $1.35 billion to state aid to districts through reductions in the STAR program. This funding is intended to be backfilled using CRRSA, but would remain a permanent cut when federal funds are no longer available.
Community Schools Funding – remains as a set-aside taken away from the Foundation Aid. This results in further erosion of the Foundation Aid component for over 400 districts.
Elimination of $475,000 for professional development for building administrators and program directors.
Advocacy on the education portion of the proposed state budget actually began last fall, when the ECB, the New York State Educational Conference Board (of which SAANYS is a member), worked to develop a set of funding priorities. Once the governor presents his budget in January, this work continues by submitting and presenting testimony at the joint hearing on the executive budget for elementary/secondary education. This hearing was held on January 28 and SAANYS’ testimony can be found on the SAANYS website here: https://bit.ly/3tvdbvN. SAANYS will use the key points listed above as the basis of our discussions with legislators and the executive branch. One strategy for a year that will consist mostly of virtual meetings is a reliance on “regional advocacy ” between our Government Relations Committee (GRC) members and their legislators. Many of the GRC members have established relationships with legislators and understand their district and regional concerns. Additionally, SAANYS staff will conduct meetings (virtual) with the leadership in both the Senate and Assembly.
Another component of SAANYS advocacy is developing a legislative platform that captures the concerns of our members. This platform is adopted by the SAANYS Board of Directors and is used as the basis for meetings with legislators, NYSED, and other appropriated agencies (NYSTRS, etc.). The 2021 SAANYS Legislative Agenda may be found at: https://saanys.org/advocacy/updates-positions/. Although this list is extensive, the topics discussed at our various meetings will be scaled accordingly depending on the goals of the established meetings.
Throughout this timeframe, ongoing activities that support our legislative and budgetary priorities continue through many meetings with NYSED, communications with the governor’s office, workgroups convened by the Department of Health, and work with our ECB colleagues. This behind-the-scenes work provides a strong foundation to ensure that we are at the table for many discussions on curriculum, school safety, digital equity, restorative justice, and graduation measures.
The Government Relations arm of SAANYS deeply appreciates the support and interest of our members. It is the respected work of building administrators and program directors that allows SAANYS to be a respected voice on important and timely educational matters.