By Michael Weiner and Thomas Lynch

This year’s New York State budget takes substantial steps that will preserve and enhance quality of life in Western New York.

Expanded funding for key educational programs – through initiatives like the Smart Schools Bond Referendum – will pay dividends in the long term.

Accessible and universal pre-K in high-need areas will mean that more children will develop the skills and qualities that support active learning. Additional funding for after-school programming will also enable students to participate in productive out-of-school time activities that improve academic performance, social interaction and behavior. This funding is critical for the ongoing development of our students and should be implemented in the current fiscal year.

Even though they are minors, many youth who fall through the cracks of our educational system risk involvement with the adult justice system. Establishing a commission to create a plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility should lead to better state policies that will help at-risk youth avoid unlawful behavior, build prosperous futures and reduce public expenditure on incarceration.

Beyond high school, the budget also supports broader and more comprehensive employment and educational options for youth, which will create a strong workforce, grow our tax base and reinvigorate our towns and neighborhoods. Support for higher education and career pathway development through STEM-related tuition assistance and technology improvements will allow our local high school and college graduates to find and maintain careers in our growing job market.

Affordable housing remains a concern for residents throughout the state. For those who do not benefit from home ownership, the proposed renters tax credit will help families and eligible seniors offset often high housing costs.

Despite these encouraging components, the proposed budget does not fully address two key resources. First, funding for 2-1-1, a telephone hot line that provides 93 percent of state residents with needed information about non-emergency services, is not included. 2-1-1 is a primary tool for navigating the complex health and human service system, a critical need highlighted by the United Way Community Needs Assessment.

Second, funding for public transit in Western New York is insufficient as proposed. A fair adjustment in state support for public transportation will enhance transportation options and expand connections to employment opportunities for low-income households and families living in poverty.

Michael Weiner is president and CEO of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. Thomas Lynch is president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of WNY Inc.