School officials received better than expected news last week as local state representatives announced that education aid had been increased by nearly $1 billion for 2013-14 before completing work on the new fiscal year’s budget.
The $936 million bump in education money, nearly twice as much as Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s originally proposed $490 million, was one of the key highlights of the state’s $141.3 billion budget that was approved by the Assembly last Thursday. The Senate wrapped up voting earlier in the week.
The state budget, delivered on time for the third consecutive year, will also provide millions more toward tax credits to stimulate business growth and an increase in the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9 an hour within three years. It closes a budget gap, of between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion without adding new taxes, although the so-called millionaires tax, which was set to expire next year, has been extended.
Elected officials were most eager to talk about the millions more in education aid. School districts in the northern half of Westchester County and Putnam, which have been grappling with unfunded mandates and with little chance to receive voter approval to exceed the tax cap, will see increases in total aid range from 4.72 percent in Valhalla to a whopping 25.41 percent in Hendrick Hudson in Montrose.
“The governor’s original proposed aid formulas would have been devastating for schools statewide,” said state Senator Greg Ball (R-Patterson). “I am happy to say that we not only restored the cuts but that we increased funding across the board from last year.”
Districts are in the midst of wrapping up their budgets in the coming weeks but officials were encouraged by the extra money that will be at their disposal.
“I am excited to let our community know that this funding will allow us to avoid significant cuts and continue to offer top-notch programs and services to our students districtwide,” said Dr. Susan Guiney, Superintendent of Schools for the Mount Pleasant School District, which will receive $4.58 million for next year, an increase of about $224,000 over 2012-13, according to numbers released by the state.
During her March 20 budget presentation, Guiney said the district needed to find or cut close to $700,000 in order to maintain all current programs.
Other local districts had even sharper increases than Mount Pleasant. Chappaqua will see $1,055,924 (16.51 percent) more next year, Pleasantville $509,195 (9.54 percent), Bedford $555,019 (11.14 percent), Brewster $1,145,012 ( 7.88 percent) and Byram Hills $188,839 (7.74 percent).
But while legislators lauded the increase in education aid figures, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Pleasantville) harshly criticized Cuomo and many of his legislative colleagues for slashing millions of dollars from the Office of Developmental Disabilities. Although the reduction, at 4.5 percent rather than Cuomo’s originally proposed 6 percent, is an improvement, it will still hurt families, said Abinanti, adding that “people with special needs are being thrown out of New York.”
“This is sending the wrong message from New York,” he said. “This should not be the new New York.”
Although there was some opposition to the increase in minimum wage, the legislature looked to offset some of the extra costs with various tax credits. The state will provide a subsidy of $1.35 of the $1.75 increase for teenage workers. Another break for businesses is the newly established credit of 10 percent of the wages paid for those owners who hire qualified veterans during the first full year of employment.
“By increasing the state’s minimum wage and providing tax relief to local business owners, we are strengthening our area’s economic recovery and getting more families back to work, while fostering a more business-friendly environment,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald(D-White Plains)
Among the other initiatives are the $50 million Innovation Venture Capital Fund that will provide seed money for investments in new businesses and promote the transition from research and development to commercialization, and the Business Incubator and Innovation Hot Spot Support Act to provide fledgling companies with access to such support services as technical, marketing and entrepreneurial training.
The new budget also provides a $350 rebate for families in 2014 that have income between $40,000 and $300,000 and with at least one child 16 or under.