New York’s public education leaders said Thursday they’re concerned about how the state’s recovery effort from Superstorm Sandy will affect vulnerable school budgets.
State Education Commissioner John King and State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke at a conference in Albany about how state colleges can better prepare new teachers for the challenges of today’s classrooms. But they warned about the state’s financial woes impacting state aid for education.
“Unfortunately, I think the picture for state aid is in jeopardy given the challenges posed by the recent storm,” King told Gannett’s Albany Bureau after his speech.
“Over the next few weeks, as we come to understand what support the state will be able to get from the federal government, we’ll be in a better position to understand the impact on the state budget,” he continued. “But I am very worried about the state aid picture for the coming year.”
Even before the storm, King said he was not expecting the state’s education budget to grow.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have committed to increase state aid for education next fiscal year by the rate of growth in New Yorkers’ personal income. Given the state’s slow recovery and that some families’ income will take a hit from Sandy, King said the increase could be less than it was last year.
School advocates said any expected aid increase might not be enough for schools.
“That inflationary increase doesn’t really keep up with the inflationary costs,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a labor-backed policy group. “If that’s all they do, there will be classroom cuts.”
Cuts in state aid combined with a property-tax cap have led districts to lay off employees in recent years, school officials said. The state increased aid by 4 percent in the current fiscal year, about $800 million, after cutting it in 2011.
Cuomo has told state agencies not to expect funding increases in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts April 1. He and the Legislature will grapple with as much as a $2 billion budget deficit, an estimate that has swelled from $1 billion because of the damage from Sandy.
The federal government pays 75 percent of costs for damages associated with major disasters, and the state and local governments are expected to pay the rest. Cuomo is seeking 100 percent reimbursement from the federal government because of Sandy’s magnitude.
In prior major storms, that state has picked up most, if not all, of local governments’ share.
Cuomo is expected to release his budget recommendation in mid-January.
“Economic growth has not been as rapid as we had hoped, so I was not expecting a significant difference in a positive direction from last year,” King said. “But now, given the storm, I think there is real worry that we won’t even get close to where we were last year unless we are able to get support from the federal government and the governor and Legislature are creative about how to allocate resources.”
SUNY’s Zimpher also said Sandy has been a consideration in the system administration’s budget talks. The Board of Trustees Executive Committee on Wednesday approved a budget request for $1.97 billion in state aid, a roughly 13 percent increase from the current fiscal year.
“I always preface our budget conversations with our full knowledge that the state has not gotten itself to the black, and that we’re still dealing with shortages of funding, and we’re still dealing with the effects of Superstorm Sandy,” Zimpher said.
“So we tried to be thoughtful and present a budget that could expand as the state’s resources expand,” she continued. “But we would not represent our students if we didn’t make requests to better their experience, and that’s what we did.”
She said she was hopeful that the system’s request would be met.
“We’re optimistic, but we are partners with the governor and the Legislature,” she said. “So I think what we will get is a partnership.”