budget basics

Mayor’s budget calls for new 3-K preschool sites amid looming budget threats

PHOTO: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

New York City is speeding up its expansion of prekindergarten for three-year-old students, despite looming budget threats from Albany and Washington D.C., Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The mayor announced the $46 million plan to expand his “3-K” program during during a press briefing, where he unveiled his $88.67 billion budget preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year.

Still, de Blasio warned about tough times ahead for school funding — which he pinned partially on his rival, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor’s proposed budget leaves the city with $200 million less in school funding than city officials had projected, and force it shoulder additional costs relating to charter schools and special-education services, de Blasio said.

The bigger threat to the city’s budget will come from Washington, with up to $700 million at risk, according to city projections. In response, the mayor touted $900 million in savings across fiscal years 2018 and 2019 through a partial hiring freeze and agency and debt-service savings.

“This budget process proceeded against a backdrop of tremendous uncertainty,” de Blasio told reporters. “We said to ourselves, as we embark on this process, that we would have to be very careful, very sparing in the actions that we took.”

Here’s a breakdown of the mayor’s budget:

Four new 3-K sites. De Blasio’s plan says that 12 districts will provide free preschool for 3-year-olds by 2020 — four more than he originally planned. The new districts are 5 and 6 in Upper Manhattan, 12 in the Bronx, and 16 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Education department officials said the city plans to fund these districts on their own, but in order to expand 3-K to every school district, the city will need to tap into state and federal funds.

“We want to move aggressively with 3-K,” de Blasio said. “We decided that we could go farther, more quickly.”

Shifting costs from Albany to New York City. The $10.5 billion in school funding that Gov. Cuomo has proposed giving New York City falls far short of what the city expected, amounting to a “very substantial cut” that would “hold us back,” de Blasio said.

He also raised concerns about $144 million in additional costs the city would have to shoulder for charter schools under the governor’s proposal and an extra $65 million the city would have to find for special education services.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said the reduction in special-education funding is much smaller than the city is projecting. State officials also said the state is giving the city a $248 million boost in school funding this year, along with increases in Medicaid funding and tax revenue.

“Calling this significant increase a cut is disingenuous and the City should check its math,” said Morris Peters, spokesman the state budget office.

The budget lacked money for homeless students. Similar to last year, the mayor left out about $10 million in his preliminary budget plan for social workers that help students living in shelters. The decision comes as the city’s homeless student population continues to swell, reaching one in 10 students during the 2017 school year. Advocates quickly blasted the decision, saying the social workers provide “critical support” to these students.

“We are appalled that the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget would eliminate funding for the DOE Bridging the Gap social workers for students living in shelters,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. “Just yesterday, while testifying in Albany, Chancellor Fariña highlighted these social workers as a key accomplishment.”

But de Blasio said, just like last year, the city would find additional funding for homeless students before the budget is finalized.

“The strategic goal has not changed, we’re going to be there for those kids,” he said. “Whether the current design and the current cost is right is what we’re not sure about.”

Future of Schools

Mike Feinberg, KIPP co-founder, fired after misconduct investigation

PHOTO: Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of the KIPP charter network, has been fired after an investigation into sexual misconduct, its leaders announced Thursday.

KIPP found “credible evidence” connected to allegations that Feinberg abused a student in the late 1990s, according to a letter sent to students and staff. Feinberg denies the allegations.

“We recognize this news will come as a shock to many in the KIPP Team and Family as we struggle to reconcile Mr. Feinberg’s 24 years of significant contributions with the findings of this investigation,” the letter says.

It’s a stunning move at one of the country’s best-known charter school organizations — and one where Feinberg has been in a leadership role for more than two decades. Feinberg started KIPP along with Dave Levin in Houston in 1994, and Levin brought the model to New York City the next year. The network became known for its “no excuses” model of strict discipline and attention to academic performance.

KIPP says it first heard the allegation last spring. The network eventually hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an external investigation, which found evidence that Feinberg had sexually harassed two adults, both alums of the school who were then employed by KIPP in Houston, the network said.

“In light of the nature of the allegations and the passage of time, critical facts about these events may never be conclusively determined. What is clear, however, is that, at a minimum, Mr. Feinberg put himself into situations where his conduct could be seriously misconstrued,” KIPP wrote in the letter, signed by CEO Richard Barth and KIPP’s Houston leader, Sehba Ali.

Feinberg’s lawyer, Chris Tritico, told the Houston Chronicle that Feinberg had not been fully informed about the allegations against him.

“The treatment he received today from the board that he put in place is wrong, and it’s not what someone who has made the contributions he’s made deserves,” Tritico said.

Read KIPP’s full letter here.

Petition Time

Try, try again: Latest attempt at school funding measure would raise $1.6 billion with income, corporate tax increases

Colorado voters could see a $1.6 billion tax increase for education on their November ballots.

Backers of a major school funding measure have been cleared to gather signatures by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The measure – going by Great Schools, Thriving Communities – would increase the corporate tax rate and increase income taxes for people who earn more than $150,000 a year, as well as change how residential property is taxed for schools.

“Colorado schools are severely underfunded right now, and this initiative is a way we can ensure that every student has access to the supports they need for success,” said Susan Meeks, a spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado, one of the groups supporting the measure.

Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that voters approve any tax increase, and voters have twice before rejected statewide school funding measures, most recently in 2013.

To get on the ballot this time, supporters need 98,492 valid voter signatures. Amendment 71, approved in 2016, requires that those signatures be gathered in every state Senate district in the state, imposing – by design – a logistical and financial hurdle on all constitutional amendments. (A federal judge has suggested that requirement might violate the U.S. Constitution, and it’s not clear right now whether it will remain in effect.)

The tax measure calls for:

  • Raising the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent.
  • Raising the income tax rate from a flat 4.63 percent to between 5 percent and 8.25 percent for people earning more than $150,000. The highest tax rate would be paid by people earning $500,000 or more.
  • Setting the residential property assessment rate at 7 percent for schools. That’s lower than it is now but higher than it is predicted to be in 2019 because current law has the unintended effect of gradually reducing the residential assessment rate.
  • Setting the non-residential property assessment rate at 24 percent, less than the current 29 percent.

According to a fiscal analysis by the state, the average taxpayer earning more than $150,000 would pay an additional $519 a year, while those earning less would be unaffected. The average corporate taxpayer would pay an additional $11,085 a year. The change in property taxes would vary considerably around the state, but based on the average statewide school levy, many property owners would pay $28 more on each $100,000 of actual value in 2019 than they otherwise would. Commercial property owners will see a decrease, and total property tax revenue collected by school districts would go down statewide.

If approved, the taxes would generate an estimated $1.6 billion that would go into a new “Quality Public Education Fund.” The vision is that this money would be distributed to schools in accordance with a new school finance formula backed by nearly all of the state’s superintendents and under consideration in the legislature this year.

The new funding formula, which would increase per-pupil funding in accordance with student characteristics like being gifted and talented or learning English as a second language, only goes into effect if voters approve the tax measure. If that plays out, no school district would lose money on the deal, and some would see significant increases in funding.

If lawmakers don’t pass a new funding formula, but voters approve the tax measure, schools would still get more money. The ballot measure calls for an increase to the base amount of per-pupil funding, plus extra money for students with particular needs, money for public preschool, and money for full-day kindergarten.

Full funding for kindergarten has been an elusive Holy Grail for education advocates in Colorado.

“Our measure is addressing the needs of the kids head on,” said Donald Anderson, one of the backers of the tax increase. “You can see where we’re raising this money and you can see where it’s going, and it’s very transparent in a way that voters will be able to get behind.”

Anderson is a stay-at-home father of two children in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins who has been active on school issues.

The ballot measure also contains a provision that requires the state to keep spending what it already does. That is, lawmakers can’t lean on this new money source and divert existing education spending to other needs.

Luke Ragland of the conservative education reform group Ready Colorado supports the idea of weighted student funding contained in the proposed new finance formula, but he doesn’t think Colorado’s education system needs a huge infusion of cash – if voters even go along with the idea.

“I don’t understand why the presumption is that spending more money will make things better,” he said. “Spending money on the same things won’t produce different outcomes.”

The education spending measure could be sharing space on a crowded ballot with a governor’s race, a transportation measure, and more.

The most recent attempt to raise money for schools – Amendment 66 in 2013 – was rejected by 65 percent of voters. That measure affected all taxpayers by imposing a 5 percent income tax rate on those earning up to $75,000 and a 5.9 percent rate on those earning more. It also involved a change to the funding formula, but one that caused some districts to lose money.

Is this a good time to try again for an education tax increase? Backers of the idea say there’s only one way to find out.

“We have one of the best economies in the nation right now, and it’s the perfect time to be investing in our students,” Meeks said.