ALBANY – The upcoming state budget for 2014-15 will change a number of elements of New York’s controversial Common Core but will keep intact teacher evaluations tied partly to standardized test results of students in public schools.
Officials close to the budget talks say the final fiscal plan, which needs to be approved by Monday in order to be on time before Tuesday’s start of the fiscal year, is expected to increase overall aid to education by more than $1 billion over the current fiscal year’s budget, to more than $22 billion.
Still uncertain is which formula for education will get the bigger boost:
• A component that directs funds partly on enrollment and student need based on a locality’s ability to pay, which helps Big 5 urban districts such as Buffalo.
• Or eliminating the “gap elimination adjustment,” in which the state has deducted money from school aid allotments since a fiscal crisis began in 2008, a method that suburban schools say has hit them harder.
Precisely how far the changes to Common Core will go was still being debated Wednesday at the Capitol. But lawmakers say they expect, at a minimum, that certain Common Core test results will not count against student records for a period of time, additional money will be pumped into teacher professional development funds to help them make the transition to the Common Core system, and there will be no Common Core testing before third grade.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the final plan will include still-unspecified delays to the new English and math testing requirements under the Common Core program. But he suggested that the budget will not remove standardized Common Core test results from being partly applied to how teachers are evaluated under a new state system that judges the classroom abilities of teachers.
A rush is on with Common Core because students in grades 3 through 8 are due to take a second round of standardized tests next week across the state.
“We’re probably going to include something that alleviates the trauma to students who are scheduled to take exams in April,” Silver said after the session with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Silver said that there is a “target’’ number of $300 million for New York City to offer prekindergarten classes to tens of thousands of students this fall, but that the sides had not yet agreed on a number for upstate and Long Island districts.
Lawmakers said prospects are dim for a plan pushed heavily by the Catholic Church and others to provide tax breaks to individuals and entities that make donations to nonprofit groups that, in turn, give scholarship or other grant money to both private and public schools.
Teams of lobbyists spent Wednesday pushing and pulling over a new plan to permit charter schools to obtain state aid for infrastructure work done on their buildings.
Cuomo proposed increasing total funding to the state’s 700 school districts by $807 million, although about $100 million of that was for his full-day, pre-K expansion program. One lawmaker said that the total amount for education, when completed next week, will top $1 billion, while another said that it could be as high as $1.3 billion.
While the governor’s plan to permit taxpayer funding of political campaigns is in trouble, a number of other ethics proposals got a boost Wednesday after the FBI raid on the district and Albany offices of Assemblyman William Scarborough, D-Queens, reportedly over per-diem payments the state has made to him over the years.
Cuomo wants to toughen penalties for ethics violations, seeks an independent investigative body at the Board of Elections to look into campaign finance abuses, and wants to make public more information about the outside incomes of lawmakers.
The governor formed a special investigative panel, known as the Moreland Commission, last year after lawmakers rebuffed his proposed ethics changes. That panel has asked law firms that employ lawmakers, including Erie County’s Republican Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, for information about clients – a request the firms have been fighting.
Ranzenhofer and three other senators who have outside law firms were seen Wednesday heading to the Capitol’s second floor, where the Cuomo administration has its office suite. Ranzenhofer later declined to comment, but lawmakers have been pushing the governor to eliminate the Moreland Commission if they put some of his ethics proposals into the budget.
Legislators have successfully pushed to keep whole or increase funding for the state’s various Centers of Excellence, a program dating from the Pataki administration, which links universities with various technology industries, a veteran lawmaker said Wednesday.
Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, chairman of the Assembly Economic Development Committee, said an agreement has been reached to restore a Cuomo proposal that the lawmaker said would have resulted in deep funding cuts to the existing nine centers across the state.
The deal means that the University at Buffalo’s materials informatics facility, which is centered on advanced manufacturing, life sciences and energy, will see its state funding rise from to $872,000, from $500,000, Schimminger said.
The Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences at Buffalo – a collaboration of the UB Center for Computational Research, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and several private firms – also will get $872,000 in the coming year from Albany. Under the Cuomo budget plan, that facility was to see its funding cut to $654,000.
The Democratic lawmaker said the Cuomo budget proposal kept the state’s overall funding to the Centers of Excellence program flat, which would have resulted in deep cuts to the existing nine facilities because the governor proposed adding a 10th center that would share in the funding.
Older centers that were part of the original program, including the one for bioinformatics in Buffalo, were facing a cut to $654,000, from $872,000. Newer centers, including the one for materials informatics in Buffalo, would have received $372,000 under the Cuomo proposal, down from $500,000 this year, Schimminger said.
Under the agreed-to plan that will be contained in the 2014 state budget, all of the state’s centers will get the same funding: $872,000.
Still being negotiated is precise language for a Cuomo plan to offer a property tax freeze – through the issuance of rebate checks – that includes payments in two years only to homeowners who live in communities that agree to specific cost-saving measures.
Lawmakers say a deal is likely to permit localities to “count’’ savings they have made in at least the last couple of years toward the savings goal so more homeowners will qualify for the modest rebate checks.
The sides also are still talking about elimination of an assessment on utility bills, and to whom it should apply.
After a closed-door meeting with Cuomo on Wednesday, legislative leaders said they see no reason why budget bills cannot be printed by Friday night, the deadline if the bills are to go through the legal, three-day “aging’’ process for voting to occur Monday.
Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, said one of the key focuses of his conference is to add more money for public schools than what Cuomo proposed. “The number we had was something over $500 million, and we’re hoping that will grow,’’ Skelos said.
Skelos said the final deal also is set to include some versions of tax cuts Cuomo proposed for banks, manufacturers and other corporations.
Other issues on the table include Cuomo’s call to change how development of abandoned industrial sites can qualify for state tax breaks and whether Cuomo’s freeze on aid to the state university system will be broken with a funding increase.