Governor Andrew Cuomo recently released his Executive Budget Proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Lawmakers will spend the next several weeks poring over the $152.3 billion budget before making their own recommendations, but the Executive Budget serves as an early indicator of the political landscape this fiscal year, and proposals which may, or may not, enter the final New York State budget.
The Executive Budget includes several notable proposals of general interest, including a package of middle-class tax-cuts, free state college tuition for middle-class students, and an expanded child care tax credit. Agudath Israel, however, has identified several provisions which directly impact parents of the Jewish community.
- $60 million to repay CAP funds owed to nonpublic schools was re-appropriated. In 2006, Agudath Israel and other nonpublic schools advocates identified a significant flaw in the formula for CAP (Comprehensive Attendance Policy). CAP is a key funding vehicle for nonpublic schools whereby time spent maintaining attendance files and complying with other regulations, is reimbursed. One the major victories of 2015 was the proper appropriation of CAP funding owed, to be paid over two years. We were thus pleased to see the balance of these funds re-appropriated by the Governor this year. Agudath Israel estimates the actual shortfall at $70 million; we will be back in Albany this legislative session to advocate for that last $10 million.
- $2 million re-appropriated to fund the Office for Religious and Independent Schools at the New York State Education Department. The establishment of dedicated, proactive, representation on behalf of nonpublic schools in Albany was a legislative priority and victory for Agudath Israel and other nonpublic school advocates last year. We were happy to see the Governor support this important effort this year.
- $15 million re-appropriated for Health, Safety and Security funding for nonpublic schools. Another Agudath Israel ask last year, so critical in today’s uncertain climate, maintained support by the Governor. These monies will be available beginning April 1, 2017 and funding is projected to be maintained at $15 million next year.
In addition, the Governor appropriated a 4% increase in mandated services and CAP for the current year for a total of approximately $181 million, representing an approximately $7 million increase over last year’s figures.
Surprisingly, despite the Governor’s support the past two years for an education tax credit proposal to assist tuition-paying families, a similar proposal did not appear in the Executive Budget this year. Relief for hard-working, tuition-paying parents of our community is a top priority for Agudath Israel. While the Governor has not, thus far, persisted this year in his efforts on behalf of the thousands of tuition paying parents who receive an inequitable share of the billions expended to educate New York’s public school children, it is our hope that the Governor will work with Agudath Israel to support such a proposal by the fiscal year end.
It is against this backdrop that Agudath Israel has proactively developed and drafted a bill that takes a fresh approach to this communal challenge. Entitled the SCHOOL Bill (Student Credit Helping Open Opportunities to Learn), the bill is designed to survive constitutional and legislative challenges of previous attempts. It creates a tax credit directly to parents, equal to a formula derived from the New York State per pupil public school allocation. This bill is currently being circulated to legislators in the Assembly and the Senate and being discussed with the Governor.
Agudath Israel is mindful that requesting a dramatic, new expenditure on behalf of nonpublic school students in a climate when New York State projects a $3.5 billion deficit will be a challenge. Agudath Israel encourages readers to reach out to their local representatives to support this effort to assist, in any way possible, those who seek alternatives to the public school system.
Agudath Israel has worked, with its nonpublic school partners, on nearly a daily basis for over a year to ensure that an equitable share of the Smart Schools Bond Act, a new bill passed to aid schools, reaches nonpublic schools. The Governor appropriated an additional $25 million to supplement nonpublic schools’ share of the technology funds to be received under this program. Such technology funds would allow, if passed in the final budget, for the purchase of smart boards and other computer hardware by nonpublic schools. While this acknowledgment by the Governor is progress toward equity on this issue, the estimated shortfall exceeds this figure. We will continue our efforts in this important area.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, comments on the proposed budget: “The Governor has an exemplary record of supporting parents of children in religious schools who are faced with often crushing financial burdens in the education of their children. We look forward to working with him this legislative session to achieve equity for nonpublic students and their parents.”