Mixed Reviews On Cuomo’s Budget
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Mixed Reviews On Cuomo’s Budget

‘Disappointment’ over failure to back tuition tax credit, praise for bump-up in CAP funding.

Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Getty Images
Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Getty Images

How have Jewish organizations fared in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget?

Fair.

The preliminary executive budget, which Cuomo released last week, includes several new initiatives that would increase funding for Jewish service agencies and schools. While some funding streams in the 2016 budget did not reappear in Cuomo’s $152.3 billion proposal this year, on the whole, officials from several Jewish communal organizations said, day schools and Jewish nonprofits start the 2017 budget season in good shape.

The New York State Senate and Assembly will have their own ideas for the state budget, which legislators will vote on in March. But whether or not the governor’s initiatives make it to the final budget, his preliminary budget offers a roadmap of his priorities, which, communal leaders said, for the most part align with their own.     

Cuomo’s proposed budget includes increases for the Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP), which reimburses private schools for costs associated with keeping attendance records, and the Mandatory Services Reimbursement (MSR), which does the same for other state-mandated activities such as administering Regents exams, English language arts and math assessment tests and other statewide tests, keeping immunization records and supplying the state with demographic information about the student body.   

This budget has $4 million more than last year for reimbursements for mandated services, an increase of 3.9 percent and $3 million more for attendance taking, or 4.1 percent.

“The preliminary budget includes increases to the mainline programs that the Jewish day school and yeshiva community in New York State really relies on — the bread and butter programs,” said Jake Adler, director of government affairs for Teach NYS, the day school advocacy wing of the Orthodox Union.

Adler said this is “a function of years and years of education and effort to demonstrate the importance of these programs.”

“The nonpublic school community has really rallied around these two programs, and the governor of New York knows that these are really lifeline programs for the nonpublic school community,” he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview.

The budget keeps funding for nonpublic school security efforts steady at $15 million and adds $25 million in technology funding.

One thing that did not appear in Cuomo’s budget this year is a tuition tax credit. Last year the governor proposed a $150 million credit, but it died in the legislature.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of the charedi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America and chairman of the New York City Committee of Religious and Independent School Officials, said he was “disappointed” not to see the line item included this year but “hopeful” that it would be added back in during the legislative budget process.     

“At this point, our hope is that it doesn’t represent a retreat [from the tuition tax credit effort],” he told The Jewish Week. He added that with the appointment of charter-school proponent Betsy DeVos as education secretary, more federal funding for private schools might be on the way.

“Were pleased with other parts of the budget,” Rabbi Zwiebel said, praising the $60 million additional funding for CAP payment [to be paid over two years], bringing the annual funding to $72 million. That figure, he said, “reflects the actual cost carrying out the state mandate.”

The OU is planning a push for increased STEM funding for nonpublic schools, which, Adler said, is likely to have a better chance of passing than a tuition tax credit.

“We kind of took a step back a few years ago and said: ‘What is the legislature comfortable with? What are they willing to help us work on?’” he said. “The governor’s State of the State Address included a lot of investment in STEM funding in public schools. I think it carries over very nicely in nonpublic schools.”

He said increased STEM funding for private schools makes sense. “If we want to compete as a state and want to compete as a community, we need to really be able to teach our kids in an effective manner, and we need to give our kids skills that are going to produce jobs in an evolving economy,” he said. “From a public policy perspective it’s a smart move.”

Officials from several Jewish charities were also pleased with Cuomo’s proposals.

“In general, for health and human services I think it’s a pretty good budget,” David Rivel, CEO of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview.

Rivel praised several new initiatives including the formation of “modernization teams,” which will sit down with healthcare service providers in an effort to identify and eliminate obsolete regulations. “It’s about cutting red tape,” he said.

Asked if the Jewish Board had any particular regulations it hoped would be cut, Rivel replied, “We have a list of maybe 400 things.” One example: burdensome pre-authorization requirements. “In order for a kid who has mental health challenges to come into one of our residential facilities, we need to go through a cumbersome, months-long pre-authorization process rather than allowing the hospital where the child is being treated make the assessment,” he said.

Rivel also praised Cuomo’s inclusion of $110 million for “raise the age” initiatives, a public policy change that raises the age that a person is prosecuted as an adult rather than as a juvenile. Currently New York begins prosecuting suspects as adults at the age of 16, a policy held only by one other state: North Carolina. The initiative provides funding that would allow the state to implement a policy change that would keep 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile system. The money will be used for building additional juvenile facilities.

Missing this year is the $50 million budget line in last year’s budget for the Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Investment Program, which was open to all nonprofit community organizations, not just licensed healthcare facilities.

On the whole, though, funding for nonprofits remained roughly the same as in Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal, nonprofit officials said.

“We are generally reassured as this is generally a steady budget,” said Louisa Chafee, UJA-Federation of New York’s senior vice president for external relations and public policy.

Chafee, who came to UJA-Federation about a year ago after a two-year stint as deputy secretary of Human Services in the Cuomo administration,” was particularly enthusiastic about the budget’s increased funding for low-cost apartments.   

“There’s a real focus on affordable housing in this year’s budget,” she told The Jewish Week during a telephone interview. Chafee also praised continued funding for Holocaust survivors and a $5 million increase for the summer youth employment program, which includes money for camp counselors.

Kathryn Haslanger, CEO of JASA, which provides services for senior citizens in the New York metropolitan area, praised the budget for earmarking $125 million for senior citizen affordable housing, part of a larger affordable housing funding package.

“Across the JASA programs we are seeing more and more problems related to housing,” she told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “We can see the governor is certainly committed to affordable housing. These initiatives are really positive.” 

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