The good, the bad and the ugly in the NY Senate and Assembly budget proposals

Before the final state budget negotiations begin in earnest, the Senate and the Assembly release their own budget proposals - which essentially means each house stakes out their priorities for the final weeks of negotiations.  They both released their proposals this weekend.

We’ll give you the good news first. The Senate remains steadfast in its support of charter schools, and included two very positive proposals: allowing charters that do not receive facilities aid to access the state building aid program, which NECSN has been fighting for year in and year out, and providing additional funding for students.  (More details below.)

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Here’s the bad news. The Assembly has proposed sweeping and detrimental policy changes that focus on two issues in the news lately: the enrollment and retention of high need students, and student discipline.

Remember, these are proposals and there are still at least two weeks for negotiations before the final budget deal is made – and that is if the goal of an April 1st budget is met.

We’re analyzing the legislation and here’s what we see so far:

SPECIAL FUNDING

Governor’s Proposal: The Governor proposed $27 million to be released to all charter schools statewide on or after April 1, 2017. Similar to the $25 million provided by the Senate last year, this will be based on next year’s enrollment and is expected to provide over $200 additional dollars per pupil to each school, in addition to the standard per pupil amount.
 
Senate’s Proposal:  The Senate kept the Governor’s $27 million in place, but then went a step further by doubling it to include an additional $27 million!  So what does this mean?  If both proposals make the final package, your extra per pupil funding will have doubled from this year, to be somewhere around $400 additional per pupil dollars next year.  Again, it would not be released until next spring.  (On a separate note, we have been reassured that the $25 million from last year’s budget will be allocated after April 1, 2016, but we are still waiting on final details of the process.)
 
Assembly’s Proposal: No changes included.
 

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FACILITIES FUNDING

Governor’s Proposal: The proposal does not extend any new facilities relief to those charter schools excluded from the existing policy that allows only new or growing charter schools in New York City additional aid.  It eliminates the planned switch to lease aid for schools eligible for the facilities funding program enacted in 2014 however.
 
Senate’s Proposal:  The Senate again introduced language that would allow charter schools equal access to the state building aid program for schools that do not receive facilities aid.  This is the third year in a row that the Senate has championed charter schools’ access to funds for their buildings.
 
NECSN has been the leading advocacy group fighting on this front for all schools statewide. We firmly believe all of New York State’s charter schools deserve fairness, and access to this aid would be a huge step forward.
 
For the NYC schools receiving facilities aid under the 2014 legislation, the Senate also proposes eliminating the switch to lease aid. It also increases funding from 20% of the per pupil amount to 30% of the per pupil amount. There are also technical changes to the facilities aid process that is meant to broaden and improve the policy.
 
The Assembly’s Proposal: No changes on building aid or facilities aid.
 

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PER PUPIL FUNDING

The Governor’s Proposal: The Governor puts New York City charters back onto the standard funding formula originally crafted in the Charter Schools Act. As a reminder, for the last few years this formula was either frozen to hold funding levels flat, or increased via a modest supplement on top of the rate that was calculated in the 2010-11 school year.

Under the proposal only NYC schools would revert back to this formula. Outside of NYC current law would remain unchanged and one of two things happen: 1) schools that would go up under the formula calculation continue to get a scheduled $500 supplement on top of the 2010 rate (which amounts to a $150 year-over-year increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17 in most areas); or, 2) schools that would go down under the formula continue to be "held harmless" so they do not lose any funding year-over-year. Most areas will go up under this scenario by $150 but please do not hesitate to call or email me to talk about the specifics.
 
The Senate’s Proposal: The Senate puts NYC back onto the formula and holds other districts to the above scenario of flat or up by $150, but keeps the $500 in supplemental funding for NYC charters as well.

The Assembly’s Proposal: The Assembly seeks to dramatically cut and withhold per pupil funding for schools that do not meet newly defined enrollment and retention targets.
 
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ENROLLMENT AND RETENTION TARGETS

Governor’s Proposal: There was mention of a proposal to examine enrollment and retention policies in charter schools in his budget address, but no associated language.
 
Senate’s Proposal: No changes.
 
Assembly’s Proposal: This is the area where the proposal is most damaging for charters.  First, it seeks to broaden the categories of high need students examined by the targets annually.  New categories include students who need to be out of the general education classroom more than 60% of the time and students who are in temporary or transitional housing.  Other provisions include eliminating the previous requirement that charters enroll “comparable” numbers of students, and proposes an entirely new way for districts and the Department of Education to annually reset targets that charters must meet under threat of sanctions.  It also eliminates the “good faith efforts” standard for recruitment and dramatically cuts funds for charters that fail to meet targets. 

But there is even more.  It prohibits a management company from opening any new schools if it has any existing schools that have missed targets within the last 13 months.  And the language amends the law to allow any school district employee or parent to sue a local charter school in state court to enforce these flawed targets, opening charters up to more and more lawsuits from local gadflies and teachers unions. Finally, it includes mandated enrollment preferences for ELL, FRPL, Special Ed, as well as the new student categories (<60% special ed & temporary/transitional housing) and states that if a district provides special education services to charter students, those students will not count toward the charter school's enrollment targets. 

STIMULUS FUND

Governor’s Proposal: The original budget proposal held the stimulus fund steady with $3.1 million to allocate to charter schools regardless of authorizer, but in the 30 day amendments a change was filed. The new proposal allows the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to work up a spending plan that captures an undetermined amount of funding from the Stimulus pot to fund its operations, subject to approval by the SUNY Board of Trustees. 
     
Senate’s Proposal: Matches the Governor’s proposal.
 
Assembly’s Proposal: No changes.
 

MISCELLANEOUS

Senate’s Proposal:

  • Allows high performing charter schools with rigorous teacher training programs a three-year grace period to meet certification requirements for new hires.
  • Clarifies that charter schools providing Universal Prekindergarten will not be subject to conditions of a non-charter entity (such as the NYC DOE).
  • Includes a provision to allow charter schools to switch authorizers. 

Assembly’s Proposal:

  • Prohibits contracts with a CMO/EMO or other entity unless that entity grants access to records pertaining to the management fee and services to state and local officials for the purposes of audits.
  • It eliminates the certification flexibility enacted last year and instead gives the Commissioner discretion to allow flexibility only in times of critical shortages.
  • Requires all charter schools to follow the education law in place for student discipline and suspension at district schools, thus taking away charter autonomy.

Again, there are a lot of moving parts in both of these new proposals, and this summary is meant to communicate a first look at the provisions that we think are the most positive and also the most damaging.

Our position as the budget negotiations continue is an interesting one.  The Assembly has come out hard with policy proposals that would greatly damage the flexibility of charters, and in the case of enrollment and retention policy changes, seems aimed at putting charters out of existence. 

It is very uncertain what, if anything, the Governor will agree to when it comes to this union-led “anti creaming” rhetoric, and there will only be so many things the pro-charter Senate will be able to accomplish with limited time.

Andrea is the New York State Director at the Northeast Charter Schools Network
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Analyzing the NY Senate and Assembly's budget proposals
The good, the bad and the ugly in the NY Senate and Assembly budget proposals
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