In his budget address Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a 3.8 percent increase in education aid for New York’s schools, but some Capital Region lawmakers say it’s not enough.
Cuomo plans to provide an $807 million increase in school aid for the 2014-15 school year, with 70 percent of that funding distributed to high-need school districts.
“Funding is always an issue, but what is a bigger issue is the formula for funding education,” said Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville. “Schools like Schenectady that are high need and low wealth never catch up. We have to adjust that formula and create more autonomy.”
Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, said the city only gets 54 percent of the total education aid it should receive from the state. He is looking for that percentage to increase this year to avoid further spending cuts.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said he is glad to see an increase in education investment in the budget, but he stressed districts like Schenectady need more.
“It is a good start, but I want to see more investments in our communities,” Santabarbara said. “When I talk to residents in my district, they talk about the need for more school funding.”
Schenectady schools will receive $98.7 million in state aid, about $2 million more than last year. The city school district will also get $9.4 million to make its schools “smarter” through technology.
Overall, Cuomo’s proposed budget would provide $21.9 billion in education aid, with $4.2 billion in investments for technology, universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs.
The state is looking to invest $1.5 billion over the next five years to fund statewide universal pre-K and would provide $100 million toward that initiative for the 2014-15 school year.
Cuomo is also pushing for a $2 billion bond act that would bring technology, such as computers and tablets, into New York’s classrooms. The bond referendum would go before voters in November.
“It is something I think the people of the state of New York will pass, especially if they know the money will be well spent,” Cuomo said.
Additional education investments include a $20 million teacher excellence fund to provide $20,000 for each teacher rated “highly effective” in state evaluations, and $720 million over the next five years for after-school programs.
Cuomo also addressed the controversy over the use of the Common Core curriculum in the state’s schools. He plans to assemble a panel to recommend changes to school-testing standards.
“Common Core is an issue which has had a lot of dialogue, and I think we all agree that we need real standards for our students,” Cuomo said. “I support the Common Core agenda, but the way it has been managed by the Board of Regents has been flawed.”
Another highlight of Cuomo’s budget address was property and business tax cuts he wants to implement over the next three years using a projected $2 billion budget surplus. Proposed cuts include a two-year property tax freeze, reducing the corporate income tax rate from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent and completely eliminating the corporate tax rate for upstate manufacturers.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, said the property tax cuts would not provide homeowners with long-term relief, however.
“The tax cuts remain a priority, especially the property taxes,” Lopez said. “Other than providing relief, what are we doing long-term to keep those taxes under control and keep the economy healthy? I would like to see a significant portion of those funds for further property tax relief.”
The tax package also includes increasing the estate tax threshold to $5.25 million, as well as reducing the top rate from 16 percent to 10 percent over the next four years and accelerating the phase-out of the 18-a assessment — a fee charged on electric bills — which is expected to save businesses $600 million over the next three years.
“The estate tax reduction will help with farm transfers, and that will be a good thing for our farm community,” said state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg. “I am looking at that to support our agriculture industry in the region.”
But Tkaczyk said she is also skeptical about the property tax cuts and questions if they would have a significant impact on rural areas in the Capital Region.