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December 14, 2020
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JP O'Hare

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Board of Regents Advances Budget and Legislative Priorities and State Aid Request for the 2021-22 School Year

Regents Call for Level State Aid Funding Over Two Years

Proposals Focus on Equity, Mandate Relief and Efficiency

The New York State Board of Regents today outlined its State Aid Proposal that calls for ensuring level state funding over a two-year period to continue to address the needs of school districts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Education Department announced today. In addition, the Board advanced a comprehensive set of proposals to continue to allow districts to operate efficiently to focus resources on priorities that are vital to best meet the needs of all students.

“The unpredictable nature of the pandemic coupled with the State’s current fiscal situation have created a planning quandary for our schools and cultural institutions,” said Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown.  “While we don’t yet know what the full implications of the pandemic will be on the economy, we are hopeful that the incoming Biden administration and our Congressional delegates will provide much-needed financial assistance to address our schools’ most essential needs so that we can work to address inequities and ensure that we meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for our schools, teachers, administrators, parents and students, it has also given us the opportunity to rethink how we can improve education to meet the needs of all New York students,” said Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa.  “This year, we are focused on ensuring districts across the state have the flexibility to educate and provide the social and emotional supports our children need during these tumultuous times as we continue to work to bridge the digital divide and ensure all students in every part of the State have access to a high-quality education.  We look forward to working with our partners at the state and federal levels to secure sufficient funding for all of the important programs outlined in the Board’s State Aid and Legislative priorities.”

Co-Chair of the State Aid Subcommittee Regent Beverly L. Ouderkirk said, “Our goal of meeting the education needs of all of New York’s students relies on sufficient resources for our schools and districts across the state.  Working with my Co-Chair and colleagues on the Board of Regents, we have proposed priorities to provide mandate relief and regulatory flexibilities for school districts while recognizing the realities of the State’s fiscal constraints caused by the pandemic.”

Co-Chair of the State Aid Subcommittee Regent Nan Eileen Mead said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing educational disparities and highlighted the digital divide in our districts most in need. I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature and the Executive to move this package of priorities forward this year.”

State Aid Proposal

In the 2020-21 Enacted Budget, state support for schools was reduced by over $1.1 billion in recognition of the availability of federal CARES Act funds. However, schools took on many additional unplanned costs associated with the pandemic this year. To help districts maintain services while educating students in a safe manner, the Regents call for level state funding for 2020-21 and 2021-22 based on 2019-20 school funding levels. To achieve this, the Regents propose that the CARES Act reduction be restored to school districts over a two-year period to allow for these funds to be used for their intended pandemic-related costs.

The Board’s full State Aid Proposal can be found on the Department’s website.

Non-State Aid Budget and Legislative Priority Highlights

Mandate Relief and State Aid Claims Flexibility

Given the ongoing constraints on revenue at the federal, state, and local level, school districts must operate efficiently to focus resources on the most critical priorities. The Regents have acted within the scope of their authority to make regulatory changes to help unburden school districts while maintaining appropriate safeguards and protections for students, parents, and communities, but statutory relief is also necessary. 

Legislation proposed by the Department would eliminate or reduce a significant number of statutory mandates and provide greater flexibility relating to transportation and educational management. The following new provisions would help address the challenges posed by COVID-19:

  • Extend the current pay-back period for the school district reserve flexibility that was made available earlier this year and lower the percentage that needs to be paid back each year so that more school districts can take advantage of this flexibility. The repayment period and levels would be based upon a district’s ability to raise local revenue.
  • Increase flexibility for small districts to meet unanticipated expenses by allowing targeted exceptions to the 4% fund balance limit.
  • Allow school districts across NYS to be reimbursed for utilizing buses to deliver meals, needed educational materials, or acting as mobile hot spots so students could successfully engage in remote learning, as well as reimburse school districts and counties for costs incurred in maintaining the infrastructure necessary to have transportation services available to support in-person education for all students, including preschool special education students.
  • Discontinue duplicative financial transparency reporting in light of the full implementation of the federally required ESSA financial transparency reporting by repealing Education Law Section 3614.

Promote Digital Equity/Literacy

As part of comprehensive efforts to promote digital equity in New York, the Department proposes that an initial investment of $8 million be made available for grants to organizations to provide support for parents and guardians of students related to remote learning. The funds would provide assistance in accessing internet service, technical assistance, and digital fluency skills acquisition to narrow the digital divide in New York. These funds would be targeted to high-needs areas and support efforts of organizations with both the capacity to engage in this work, and a knowledge of and ties to the communities or regions they serve. Resources created through these funds would be available for the entire state to utilize to meet unique local and regional needs.

Enhance Communication with Multilingual Parents, Students and Professionals

Due to resource constraints, the Department is not currently able to translate certain documents into languages other than English, which can limit the awareness of parents and students who do not speak English as their primary language to available educational programs and services.  The Department has developed and released numerous guidance documents to provide direction on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional resources would enable additional documents to be translated into languages other than English, which would enable non-English speaking parents and students to read such information in their own language. 

The Department is seeking $1.5 million to support the translation of documents in support of the Department’s goal of making available culturally responsive-sustaining and linguistically accessible resources for the field and public.

Enhance Supports and Services for Postsecondary Success of Students with Disabilities

In May 2017, the Department’s Advisory Council on Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities recommended, and the Board of Regents adopted, a proposal to work with representatives from the higher education sectors to develop a funding proposal that would provide much-needed enhanced supports and services to students with disabilities pursuing postsecondary study. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that these enhanced supports and services are needed by students with disabilities now more than ever.

$7 million in new state funding would be allocated by the Department, in a proportional manner by each identified student with disability to SUNY, CUNY, and our NYS degree-granting independent and proprietary colleges in equal amounts to eligible institutions with approved plans to provide enhanced supports and services to students with disabilities.

Develop an Electronic Licensing and Document Management System to Improve Customer Service

The Department requests spending authority to use funds resulting from a 15 percent registration fee increase authorized by the Legislature in 2009 for the third year of a project to replace a 35-year-old COBOL-based licensing system and enhance the customer experience. The updated electronic licensure and document management system would allow the Department to better assist applicants for licensed professions, including healthcare workers, which is especially critical amidst the pandemic.

Increase State Aid for Library Construction

Libraries support technology access for everyone, regardless of income levels. Even when COVID-19 forced libraries to temporarily close their buildings, libraries continued to provide a digital lifeline by running their Wi-Fi 24/7 for use outside buildings, using technologies to expand those networks, and distributing hotspots and laptops to those most in need. Although access to sufficient, reliable broadband to every home is critical to digital equity, residential internet access alone does not ensure digital equity without access to technical assistance and the digital fluency skills taught by public libraries.  

In the 2020-21 state budget, $14 million in capital funds was provided to support State Aid for Library Construction.  In fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20 the state budget provided $34 million. During its fourteen years in operation, the program supported a total of 2,705 construction and renovation projects for 803 unique public library and library system facilities. 

Despite the many successes of the current program, there is still a pressing need for state support. The estimated need for new construction, expansion and renovation of existing library facilities alone is over $1.52 billion through 2025. The $20 million request would restore this aid back to the 2019-20 $34M level and include a focus on libraries addressing digital equity needs in their communities.

Expand Access to Education Programs through Cultural Institutions

New York has world-class cultural institutions that have the ability to engage students in unique ways. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of these cultural institutions to close their doors, preventing students from having access to these important learning experiences.

The Board proposes a $500,000 pilot program to support museums and cultural institutions to reach audiences who cannot physically visit their institution, with a particular focus on reaching and supporting teachers and students remotely. Competitive grants would serve museums and cultural institutions located in or serving high needs districts.

A full description of the Board’s State Aid proposal as well as non-State Aid legislative and budget priorities can be found on the Department’s website.