Nassau school districts are waiting to make budget decisions after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the coronavirus crisis would force him to cut funding for schools in an attempt to close the state’s budget gap. The state budget deadline was Wednesday.
“We have a conceptual agreement with the leaders on the budget,” Cuomo said at a press conference on Wednesday, but declined to elaborate.
July 1 marks the start of the fiscal year for school districts, so voting will need to take place before that date.
Last night the Senate acted on two bills, concerning debt service and revenue, but did not reach an agreement on healthcare and school aid.
The state will borrow money short-term in order to pay its bills and provide some aid to schools and hospitals, assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D–N.Y.) confirmed.
Cuomo contended that the $2 trillion stimulus bill approved by the U.S. Senate March 25 disregarded New York’s dire financial situation. He has publicly criticized U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (R-N.Y.) for not ensuring more funding for New York.
As of Wednesday, $16 billion of the stimulus bill will go toward unemployment compensation for New York residents who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The aid package, which Schumer dubbed “unemployment on steroids,” adds $600 per week in unemployment payments for a maximum of four months.
In a radio interview on WAMC last Thursday, Cuomo said efforts to combat the coronavirus ravaging the state have left New York “basically bankrupt.”
With the Wednesday budget deadline looming, legislators were pushing for a freeze in education funding Monday in light of the governor’s warning, according to Newsday.
When asked how school districts, which typically pass their budgets in May, were supposed to adjust, Cuomo responded, “State governments are losing money. Local governments are losing money. It is a reality for everyone and everyone has to adjust.”
The East Williston school district was originally scheduled to finalize its 2020–2021 budget last week.
“At this point in time we don’t have notification of the state budget or state aid dollars allocated to schools,” East Williston Superintendent Elaine Kanas told Blank Slate Media Wednesday. “This is one of the reasons the Board of Education postponed adopting a final budget. Once that information becomes available we will better be able to make necessary budget decisions.”
Cuomo said education accounts for one of the largest portions of the state budget.
“The federal government knows that,” said Cuomo. “So when they didn’t give the state funding, all they did was cut the education budget to the state of New York, which is a tragedy.”
“The funding they [senators] provided for the state was only for COVID-19 related expenses,” he explained.
Cuomo originally proposed a $178 billion 2020–2021 spending plan, which encompassed a 3 percent school budget increase. The Cuomo administration, however, which had initially predicted a $5 billion increase in revenue for the state this year, now estimates that New York will suffer a $15 billion hit.
He has suggested that lawmakers should grant state Budget Director Robert Mujica the power to unilaterally cut spending every fiscal quarter, which would mean that the budget could evolve throughout the year.
“We understand the need to have the nimbleness to react if something has to happen,” said state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) in a radio interview with Capitol Pressroom. “But I would never be in favor of giving wide latitude without involvement from the legislature in most of these decisions.”
“This is a pretty dramatic development for school districts,” said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association. “It’s hard to go back in the middle of the year and say, ‘OK, we have to cut Mrs. Smith’s AP history course.’”
He added that during the 2008–2009 recession, many school districts had to choose between getting wage and benefit concessions from unions or laying off employees.
“There’s some uneasiness in the county and state about what’s the outlook for next year,” Hank Grishman, Jericho school district superintendent and former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, told Newsday. “And it is possible [Cuomo] would look to trim some of the other money schools are expecting this year, such as building aid,” he added, referring to state funding to reimburse school renovation costs.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo’s response to New York’s multibilliondollar- funding shortfall was to create a Medicaid redesign team to propose $2.5 billion in cuts. Cuomo continues his push for this, including a proposed $400 million cut from state hospital funding. Legislators and activists have criticized his plan to cut hospital aid during a continually escalating pandemic.
Cuomo told a press conference Saturday that if he can’t cut Medicaid, “we can’t do a budget.”
The governor has continually opposed raising taxes on the wealthy in order to close the budget gap. Lawmakers and activists have pointed to a number of proposals aimed at solving the budget problem with measures such as imposing new levies on luxury yachts and stock transfers.
Cuomo said Saturday that New York was excluded from the federal funding provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act due to a “technical issue in the way the bill was written.”
The technical issue that Cuomo referred to is an intentional provision restricting states from slashing Medicaid during the coronavirus crisis.
Hospitals that primarily serve low-income populations are particularly reliant on Medicaid. Many of these hospitals are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis and are running out of resources. Queens’ Elmhurst Hospital, which is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, resorted to using a refrigerated trailer as a makeshift morgue.
Over the past two decades, budget cuts and insurance overhauls have contributed to the loss of 20,000 hospital beds in New York.
The details of the Federal Stimulus Coronavirus bill, including the $1 billion for schools, were still being finalized. In the meantime, NYSUT, the state teacher’s union, said that schools need money just to keep going.
“So many districts will be dependent on those extra funds,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Saying there were drastic cuts coming to education, this is definitely a stop gap.”