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New York would increase its total funding for public schools by 10% to more than $34 billion under a proposal by Gov. Kathy Hochul that would end a longstanding conflict over unfair aid distributions.
That aid increase was part of a $227 billion state budget Hochul presented Wednesday, the opening round of negotiations with state lawmakers over two months. The Senate and Assembly will hold hearings on Hochul's plan, release their own proposals and adopt a final budget by around April 1 when the next fiscal year begins.
Her proposal would fully fund − for the first time − the amounts the state is legally obliged to send school districts in the form of foundation aid, their largest funding stream from Albany. Hochul had agreed in a 2021 court settlement to comply with that obligation in the upcoming budget.
She also proposed the following education measures:
$250 million in funding for tutors to address learning gaps caused during the pandemic, particularly in math and reading for students in grades 3 to 8.
Allowing more charter schools to open in New York City by lifting the city's limit and making available the charters of schools that had closed. The statewide cap of 343 charter schools would remain intact.
That combination of ideas prompted mixed reactions from New York State United Teachers, the union representing 600,000 public-school teachers, and the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that fought to increase funding for schools with predominantly Black, Hispanic and low-income students.
Both groups cheered the aid increase and blasted the boost for New York City charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately owned and run.
"Charters exclude students who don’t fit their business model, and they operate without input from the public or accountability to taxpayers," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement. "Where public schools unite our communities, charter schools fracture them.”
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Funding proposed to buoy hospitals, nursing homes
Hospitals and nursing homes would get more public funding through an increase in their Medicaid reimbursement rates, though not as much as they hoped. Hochul proposed raising those rates by 5%, well below the 10% and 20% rate hikes they reportedly had sought.
Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program, is one of the state's biggest expenses and would rise to nearly $28 billion under her plan. Enrollment is expected to climb to a peak by June with roughly 7.9 million New Yorkers covered, about 40% of the population.
The Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative Albany think tank, cheered the potential addition of up to 85 charter schools in New York City, but panned the increases in Medicaid and school funding and painted Hochul's budget as fiscally irresponsible.
"The net result will be to push New York further down the road to even higher taxes,” said Tim Hoefer, the Empire Center's CEO and president.
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Kathy Hochul doubles down on housing
Hochul's budget filled in details of plans that she announced in her State of the State speech three weeks earlier.
It contained, for example, a set of policies to try to spur construction of 800,000 homes over the next 10 years, double the amount built in the last decade. Her strategy includes requiring each municipality to meet growth targets − 3% more homes in three years in the downstate area, 1% upstate − and to rezone for dense housing around train and subway stations.
Hochul has made her housing proposal a centerpiece of her agenda, a key strategy for driving down costs for New Yorkers and boosting the economy by ensuring that workers have available housing they can afford.
"The whole objective is so families can stay in New York, kids can raise their own families where they grew up," she said in her budget speech. "Employers don't have to worry about whether or not there's going to be employees in a community to have a place to live so people can access high quality, good paying jobs, and realize their own dreams."
What other measures did Kathy Hochul propose?
As she forecast in her State of the State speech, Hochul is proposing another adjustment to the state's controversial 2019 bail reforms. She said she wants to clarify for judges when they can order defendants held on bail by eliminating the requirement that they use the "least restrictive means" to ensure they return to court.
Other proposals included:
A set of proposals to strengthen mental health services by opening more psychiatric hospital beds and building supportive housing for people with mental illnesses. Hochul's goal is to add 1,000 beds and 3,500 housing units.
A hike in the state tax on cigarettes by $1 to $5.35 a pack, more as a smoking deterrent than a revenue booster.
A three-year extension of a temporary increase in the corporate tax rate on business earning more than $5 million a year. That increase was due to expire at the end of this year.
An increase of an already-unpopular payroll tax on businesses in New York City and seven surrounding counties served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That tax hike was among Hochul's proposals to shore up revenue for the MTA, financially devastated by the plunge in ridership during the pandemic.
$200 million to offer monthly discounts on electricity bills to an estimated 800,000 New Yorkers who earn less than the statewide income but don't qualify for an existing discount.
Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Journal News and USA Today Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Kathy Hochul budget proposal includes 10% hike in NY public school aid