After vetoing legislation that would have averted cuts in state reimbursements to Catholic and other nonpublic schools, Governor Andrew Cuomo still has a chance to make things right for the thousands of families across the state whose children attend those schools.
He can, and absolutely should, restore the nearly four-decade-old formula for calculating reimbursements for state-mandated services when he releases his Executive Budget proposal in the coming days.
The effort to preserve the formula had overwhelming bipartisan support, having first appeared in the budget resolutions passed by both houses of the legislature early last year, and again in subsequent end-of-session legislation in June—only to be vetoed by the governor in the closing days of 2017.
“It is disappointing to see our schools experience a reduction in state funding when the Governor's budget increased both public school and charter school funding by as much as 4 percent,” Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, told Catholic New York last week.
Dr. McNiff added, “It now appears that the state's willingness to release over 10 years worth of back payments to nonpublic schools several years ago (i.e., mandated services) is being mitigated by this change in the reimbursement formula—in essence they are taking those funds back from the nonpublic schools.”
Without action by Cuomo to undo this unfortunate move, the schools will have no choice but to absorb cuts that could total $6 million to $10 million statewide in reimbursements for services that go to the heart of the education, safety and health of our children.
These services include administering various statewide standardized tests including Regents exams, uniform monitoring of attendance, immunization programs, achievement reports on students whose first language is not English and much more.
These services, while worthy pursuits, are required by the state and therefore should be fully funded by the state.
At a time of record investment in public education, this relatively small investment could have a huge impact on the already strained budgets of the nonpublic schools that are such an important component of the educational mosaic in New York state.
The ultimate bill for cuts in the reimbursement funding will land on the backs of the school families in the form of higher tuition. With no other dependable source of revenue, and no way to eliminate services that are mandated, it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise.
The state’s Catholic bishops were “extremely disappointed” by Cuomo’s veto of the bipartisan legislation, which “will have serious impact on our schools and tuition-paying families,” said James D. Cultrara, director for education of the New York State Catholic Conference, in a Dec. 19 statement after the governor’s action.
Cultrara pointed out that in separate bills, the State Senate approved the measure by a unanimous vote of 63-0 and the State Assembly passed it with a vote of 133-6.
That sure looks to us like a legislature that has the interest of New York families at heart, and makes the governor’s action all the more disheartening to our Catholic school communities.
The state’s bishops have pledged to continue their advocacy “to ensure that the four-decade-old basis for reimbursement is restored, and that our schools get their fair share of reimbursement for providing state-mandated services.”
They have our support for their efforts, and we ask for the full support of our Catholic communities as well, whether or not they include parents of Catholic school children.
It’s a matter of basic fairness, and a way of strengthening our educational system to better serve all of our students.