Budget Contains Some Positives, But Fails Our Schools

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Following the passage of this year’s budget, I am pleased that many components will be of great benefit to residents on Long Island. However, I was disappointed to see some of the more important components bundled together in the enacted budget. This decision put legislators in a difficult position, and will certainly lead to many new challenges for our state in the future.

One highlight from this year’s budget is language to exclude libraries from the MTA payroll tax. This exemption will provide much-needed financial relief for our local libraries, and allow them to sufficiently fund the programs and services offered to our community. Additionally, I was pleased to see that eligible homeowners, who did not receive the STAR exemption due to a filing error, will be provided with a well-deserved reimbursement.

I was greatly disappointed that the final budget allowed the governor to link increased school aid to the implementation of more flawed teacher evaluations dependent on student test scores. Deferring provisions of the teacher evaluations to the State Education Department is an abrogation of legislative authority. I fear the actual mechanics of the evaluations will be placed in the wrong hands and for that reason, I voted against this legislation. It is unfortunate that history is repeating itself, and our schools are being left at a great bargaining disadvantage. I hope the new education commissioner, when chosen by the regents, will take appropriate action to improve our schools, and that this isn’t just another backdoor maneuver for the governor to get his way.

The decision to tie such poorly-developed education reforms and valuable ethics reform into one bill is shameful. I wholeheartedly support the ethics reforms that have been passed, as they would enforce a new era of good government in the Capitol. Prohibiting use of campaign funds for criminal defense, expanding employment disclosure requirements for legislators and providing a specific definition of prohibited individual campaign expenditures are all measures that I have advocated for to battle corruption in Albany.

While I could not accept the governor’s teacher evaluation proposal, I gladly supported passage of the appropriation bill, which included a significant $1.3 billion in education funding, including additional partial restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Time and time again we have called for more funding, and the final amount is nothing to scoff at. This increased amount is substantially higher than previous years, and while it is not the amount I wanted, it is certainly welcomed funding for our classrooms. Since the education cuts of 2010, my colleagues and I have strongly advocated for fully funding our schools. This budget will restore more than half of the necessary funding, and while I have advocated for full restoration, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Additionally, I was pleased that we were able to successfully allocate an increase in funding for our 4201 schools for the blind and deaf.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R,C,I-Glen Head)

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