Education underfunding still foundation of New York’s new budget
“The issue should be addressed, and in a modern context,” Lynam said. “You’re either going to recommit and put the money in and make a justification for what you think that amount should be, or you’re not.” In the latter case, Lynam added, “You would have to say, ‘This is what we think the schools need, and this is how we get to some method of funding that handles these questions of adequacy.’”
Lawyers in Albany
Over the course of three business days, Remapping Debate reached out to Governor Cuomo’s office via email and telephone to request an interview with a spokesperson on the issue of school funding and the larger state budget. We included several questions about whether the state was failing to comply with the Court of Appeals’ CFE ruling, and whether this changed the larger budget picture, including the governor’s push for tax cuts and for state-funded pre-K. The governor’s office did not respond to these inquiries.
We also reached out by email and phone to several key legislators, all of whom either affirmatively declined to comment or simply did not respond. Among them were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee; Dean G. Skelos, the Republican majority leader of the state Senate; and Jeffrey D. Klein, the top Democrat in the Senate.
One state official responded to our inquiries: state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat representing parts of Manhattan. Krueger said she believed the state should be providing the full amount of education funding that it agreed to provide in 2007. She supported the state’s allocation of funding for universal pre-K in New York City, although she would have preferred, as de Blasio proposed, that the funding come from a dedicated tax on City residents. Krueger also opposed the tax cuts that Cuomo championed and that the Legislature passed, and so voted against the portion of the budget dedicated to revenues.
“I voted against the revenue bill on the grounds that…we could not justify making tax reductions at a time when we have failed to meet our obligations on a number of issues, including public education,” Krueger said.
However, Krueger stopped short of saying that the state was failing to meet a constitutionally mandated, legal requirement to pay the amount it agreed to pay in 2007, characterizing her belief that the state has “failed to meet its obligations” on school funding as a political position rather than a question of legal compliance. Thus, Krueger would not say whether the state’s being able to fund universal pre-K — without a dedicated tax increase — was contingent on the state’s continuing not to fund basic public education as it promised to do in 2007.
“I think we seem to be out of compliance, [based on my] understanding of how the funding was going to grow going forward,” Krueger said. “We are certainly out of compliance with statements that were put in writing in budgets in earlier years.” However, several attorneys who work for the state have communicated the position to the legislature that “legally, we are not out of compliance,” Krueger said.
“There are more than a few lawyers up in Albany who work for the governor and for both houses of the Legislature who will say that those were goals, those were never court-agreed-upon dollar numbers,” she added. “They will say we met the court-agreed-upon dollar number target two years out.” In other words, the legal position in Albany is that the state met the $1.93 billion funding increase that the Court of Appeals set as a minimum in 2006, and that there is thus no obligation to pay the additional amount established by the Legislature in 2007.
Rebell said he expects the state to use this argument in its response to the lawsuit. But he reiterated that the state is legally bound not merely to provide school funding at the level initially set as a minimum by the court, but at the enhanced level that the Legislature itself determined to be necessary to comply with the court’s ruling. That, or it has to come up with a new compliance plan that shows it is meeting its constitutional requirements with less funding.
In the meantime, Rebell said, Cuomo and the Legislature have no authority to ignore the billions more in spending they are constitutionally required to make. As such, their assertions regarding the state’s fiscal position — namely, the claim that there is enough money on hand to push through substantial tax cuts, and also to fund universal pre-K without new revenues — fail to factor in all of the state’s current obligations.
In 2009 to 2010, according to Rebell, the governor and the Legislature said, “We’ve taken funding from what we admit you need, because we don’t have the money.” Rebell continued: “And yet [now] they’re giving tax breaks for a billion and a half dollars” a year. Regarding pre-K funding specifically, Rebell said he supported the idea of the expansion and thus did not object to the state’s allocating money to the purpose — but that this should not come at the expense of basic funding for education.
“I’m very much an advocate of increased pre-K funding,” Rebell said. “But don’t shortchange the K through 12 kids, and don’t get us in a war where one is pitted against the other. They should both have adequate funding.”