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End of Albany session brings few new mandates but little relief, education groups say
Leaders in Albany got pretty good reviews from state education groups at the end of the legislative session on Friday primarily for what they didn't do: pass new unfunded mandates.
Last week, education groups were monitoring dozens of bills they considered to be unfunded mandates -- laws that require school districts to spend money without providing a mechanism to raise funds needed for the new services.
"There’s always a fear that we’ll get some unfunded mandates or bills that would put pressure on school district budgets," said Bob Lowry, a deputy director at the New York State Council on School Superintendents. "We don’t really see anything terribly significant of that sort."
Educators were thankful for the additional $1 billion in school aid included in the state budget passed in March.
Since then, the most notable occurrence in Albany was legislators' resistance to passing new requirements, according to advocacy groups. Lowry did say some educators were disappointed that more relief from current costs wasn't passed, especially in rural upstate school districts where superintendents want the option to create regional high schools.
The New York State School Boards Association was tracking about 80 bills and saw only a few pass, spokesman David Albert said. Notably, a bill that would have made it easier for parents to place their special needs kids in private schools using public funds was a nonstarter in the Senate. The association strongly opposed it as costly for schools.
Here's a roundup of what passed muster and didn't. The bills that passed must still get Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's signature before going into effect.
- Casino gaming revenues for schools: The state passed a measure that will go to voters in November to amend the state constitution and expand casino gaming options in New York. Cuomo has promised that 80 percent of state revenue from gambling will go to education or property tax relief. There's little certainty about how much money the measure would add to education budgets, but educators will certainly be eyeing that as the vote approaches.
- Lottery advance for East Ramapo: If the bill is inked by the governor, East Ramapo schools will be able to borrow against future lottery aid money to the tune of $3.5 million for this school year. The money comes with strings -- requirements that spell out how it's used and engage the public in drafting a plan.
- Mandate relief for BOCES: Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services was heartened by two bills allowing BOCES to keep reserves to fund building improvements and to enter into long-term lease agreements. What seems like routine matters will make a big difference for BOCES, which will be better able to manage its buildings, a spokeswoman for Rockland BOCES said.
- Privacy of student information: A bill touted by the anti-high stakes testing movement as a measure to give parents control over their child's information -- just as the state begins working with the data-warehousing group InBloom -- passed the Assembly but was never taken up in the Senate.
- Special education placement: School board leaders breathed a sigh of relief when a bill seen as a mechanism to ease parents' ability to place special education students in private schools wasn't taken up by the state Senate. The bill had support from religious groups such as Agudath Israel, but was strongly opposed by the New York State School Boards Association.
- Ending unfunded mandates: The Senate showed off its support for ending unfunded mandates by passing a one-house bill that ordered the state to pay for any law it passed down to schools. The Assembly never voted on the bill.
Died in committee:
- State intervention in underperforming schools: Though more than 6,000 Rocklanders, primarily from East Ramapo schools, signed a petition in support of a bill to allow the state education department to intervene in chronically underperforming schools, the measure never made it out of committee for the second year in a row.
- Funding change for East Ramapo: School leaders in the beleaguered East Ramapo school district may have gotten a lottery advance passed, but this broader measure to funnel more state aid into the district through a formula change went nowhere.