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Invest in Our Children's Future and Restore Public Education Funding in New York State

This petition had 1,753 supporters

Dear Governor Cuomo, Senator Flanagan, Assemblyman Heastie, Senator Marcellino, Assemblywoman Nolan, and members of the WNY Delegation,

Since the beginning of the "Great Recession" school districts in Erie County have had more than $2.1 billion in State aid withheld, and schools across the state have lost about $51 billion ($9.5B - GEA and $41.4B - Foundation Aid), resulting in significant cuts in programs and staff.  In the Governor’s State of the State address, he told us how the State is now in a good financial position and will have its' second consecutive budget surplus.

With that background, as supporters of education in Western New York, we call on you to Invest in Our Children's Future and Restore Public Education Funding in New York State.  This restoration needs to be addressed on four different fronts, none of which can be ignored:

Foundation Aid, the State’s primary funding source for schools, must be increased to the legally obligated levels.  In 2007, as the result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, a plan was developed with formulas phasing in state aid increases to bring funding to the proper levels to meet the state's constitutional mandate to provide a free and appropriate public education.  In 2009 that phase-in was stopped, and Foundation Aid was frozen for several years.  While the aid has begun to flow again, many districts still are at or below where they were 8 years ago. One-time funding items like Bullet Aid do not provide for a fair, predictable distribution of aid.  We need the formulas to be used and properly funded for school districts to be able to do proper long-range planning.  Lack of Foundation Aid, along with the GEA, has had the effect of shifting the tax burden to the backs of local taxpayers.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) must be repealed this year.  Under the Governor's budget proposal, the GEA is kept in place, with many school districts still having millions of dollars withheld again this year.  With New York State again having a budget surplus, it is unconscionable that a law designed to fix the state's deficit be allowed to continue and to create deficits for schools.  This must not be pushed into the next fiscal year, when a new legislature would be able to ignore the current proposals.

Tax Cap Reform is needed. While most people like this law, issues arise when the full impact is realized. Basing a school levy limit on CPI is a false premise because the CPI does not accurately reflect actual school costs. Limiting the tax levy as a way to rein in taxes also is a false premise, because it does not rein in costs.

Those weaknesses in the law would remain. However, the law could be simplified by allowing any calculation at 2% or below to be approved by a simple majority. A limit calculated above 2% also would require just a simple majority. But a super majority would be required if a district wants to go ABOVE 2% when their calculation is below that, or when they want to exceed a limit calculated at 2% (bear in mind there currently is a challenge in the courts regarding the constitutionality of requiring a super majority).

Be that as it may, the reality is that districts are loathe to raise taxes. We would have real property tax relief if the state were to address unfunded and underfunded mandates and came through with what is owed in GEA and Foundation Aid. Then there would be no need for a local property tax increase at all.

Furthermore, when the tax cap was implemented, significant mandate relief was promised, but never delivered. 

We need you to repeal the many onerous laws that impose costs on schools for minimal benefit or duplicative data.  In addition, most, if not all of you, have promised to stop new unfunded mandates, yet more were created last year.  Even if they are well meaning, lack of funding means cuts elsewhere to implement them when they come. Mandates continue to erode local control over costs and programs. If there are to be new mandates, there needs to be additional new funding from the state.

In closing, we implore you to consider and take action on all of these items.  If you have questions or need more information, please contact your local School Superintendents or Boards of Education.  They will all be happy to help explain details of the issues.  Thank You for your anticipated support.

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