SWRTA Spring (?!) Get-Together

Great time at the SWRTA Spring get-together. Thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to our social committee chairs Tracy O’Lear and Jen Simicich for organizing.

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State Budget Report

in the beginning of each calendar year, the Governor proposes a budget for the following fiscal year (April – March). The budget includes spending allocations as well as legislative items reflecting the Governor’s agenda (e.g. APPR). After reviewing the Governor’s proposal, meeting in committees and getting feedback from constituents, the Senate and Assembly publish their own versions (called one-house budgets).  The two houses then work to reconcile their separate plans, with the goal of ratifying the final budget ahead of the first day of the new fiscal year (April 1st). This past Monday a few hundred NYSUT members visited the State Capital to meet with lawmakers in order to give our input on the state budget as it pertains to education.

As always, NYSUT has quite a few issues to bring to legislators’ attention (dozens, in fact). It’s not really feasible to summarize them all, so here are just a few of the things we were lobbying for, along with some predictions of what’s to come.

 

APPR

This was a big topic in our meetings with state legislators. We argued for resuming local control over teacher evaluations, including decoupling them from test scores. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which went into effect last year, federal regulations no longer require that teacher evaluations be tied to student performance, so the argument that their hands are tied is gone.

In all the meetings I was in, the legislators were very amenable to this, but all expressed doubt that the Governor would allow this change to be in the budget. We pushed very hard for them to at least include it in their “one-house” budgets so the idea can move to the next step. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we were quite persuasive enough to get even that much done, and even if that does happen, it is still a longshot that it will make it to the final budget.

However… we did get some signs that the Governor may be willing to revisit the topic outside of the budget process (i.e. via legislative action in April – June). Barring a full decoupling, there was also some talk of an extension of the current moratorium against using test scores for evaluations (it is set to expire in July, 2019)  

 

Tax Cap & School Security

The tax cap is not going away anytime soon, but we again advocated for a bit more fairness, including

 

  • Making it a “true 2” (i.e. limiting the tax levy to 2% of the CPI whichever is GREATER, rather than whichever is less)
  • Eliminating the supermajority requirement and the possibility of negative tax levy limits
  • Allowing for exemptions for things like increased enrollment, BOCES capital expenses, and school security expenses

 

The legislators were receptive to these concerns but did not evince a desire to take most of them on, with only one possible exception – security expenses. Because of the tax cap, any additional funding that goes to security essentially means cutting other programs. As we put it to them, we need to protect our students, and it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of educating them. Separating security expenses from the tax cap did not seem to be on their radar, so we will have to see how effective we were in persuading them to take it on, but it seems like there’s a good chance this will go through.

 

School Aid

The Governor’s budget calls for an increase of $769 million in aid. It is estimated that it will take nearly double that just to maintain current programs. We advocated for an increase of $1.5 billion.

After the Governor’s budget was released, updated figures revealed that the state actually under-estimated revenue by somewhere around $500 million or more. Some of the legislators we spoke to indicated that much of this could be used to boost education spending. We’re confident that the actual budget will be higher than the Governor’s original projection, but it will almost certainly be less than what is needed.

 

 

Teacher Centers / Professional Programs

Once again, the Governor’s budget does not include any funding for Teacher Centers. Last year we were able to get $20 million of funding into the final budget, which was an increase over the prior year ($15 million), but far less than the $40 million we were calling for. We are again asking for $40 million. We are also asking for increases in funding for  the Mentor Teacher Intern Program (MTIP) and for National Board Certification (NBC).

The legislators expressed confidence that funding will be restored for teacher centers, although it will likely not be at the level we’re requesting. Funding for MTIP and NBC will probably be increased.

 

Power Plant Closures

As people who’ve been in SWR for a while know, the closure of a power plant can have terrible consequences. Right now, districts like Port Jefferson are facing budgetary devastation as a result of the loss of a huge portion of their tax base. We advocated for increased funding to help such districts.

Legislators were sympathetic, but did not commit to any remedy (none of the meetings I attended were with legislators whose districts will be directly affected).

 

Other Issues

Some of the other things we were fighting for include fully funding libraries, ensuring that 529 accounts continued to be limited to higher ed – not as a backdoor scheme to fund charter schools, allowing early voting, not allowing collective bargaining agreements to be released to the public prior to ratification, and preserving reimbursement for Medicare Part B premiums and IRMAA for retirees.

These (and many other) issues were mentioned in the meetings I was in, although discussion time was very limited and I don’t have a good sense of where they will go.

West Virginia Teachers’ Strike

Earlier this week we reported that the West Virginia teachers strike had ended, but it looks like that report was premature. Striking teachers ultimately rejected the deal and refused to go back to work. As one teacher put it,

“What’s the worst thing that could happen – they fire me and I have to go get a job that pays more money than this?” … you’re losing right now – you have nothing to lose.”

Everyone should read this NYT editorial about Union Power and the West Virginia strike.

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