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Home » Clarion » 2015 » March 2015 » Proposed Budget Fails CUNY

Proposed Budget Fails CUNY

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“At CUNY, we’ve kept our promise. Albany, it’s time to keep yours.”

That’s the message the PSC is bringing to this year’s state budget battle – in radio ads, grassroots lobbying and meetings with leaders in the New York Legislature. The deadline for adopting a new state budget is April 1, and the outcome will shape CUNY’s ability to offer competitive wages and benefits in the years ahead.

Students push for fair funding for CUNY and for the NY DREAM Act, which would free up student aid for undocumented New Yorkers.
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At issue is New York State’s failure to provide “maintenance of effort” in its funding of CUNY and SUNY since 2012, when a five-year plan for annual tuition hikes was adopted. “The promise,” as PSC President Barbara Bowen said at a February budget hearing in Albany, “was that every dollar of the painful 24% increase in tuition would be used to enhance education – to add faculty, reduce class size, expand program offerings.” The State was supposed to do its share by maintaining funding levels for current programs, including any mandatory cost increases for existing services.

Broken Promise

“The promise has not been kept,” Bowen told legislators at the hearing on February 10. “The State has failed to provide a true maintenance of effort.” Budgets since 2012 have underfunded CUNY’s existing operating expenses and left them running behind inflation, Bowen explained. “The 2016 Executive Budget does not fund one dime of CUNY’s mandatory cost increases,” she emphasized. “We’re talking about rent hikes, rising energy costs, price increases for office supplies and equipment, fringe benefit cost hikes and contractual salary steps.” Full funding for CUNY’s mandatory costs will require an additional $62.9 million in this year’s budget, the union says.

As a result, “the Governor forces CUNY to use tuition revenue to keep the lights on” rather than to make “desperately needed improvements for students,” Bowen said. Unless the Legislature takes a stand this year, she warned, the pattern will continue.

Also speaking at the February 10 budget hearing was CUNY Chancellor J.B. Milliken, who told legislators that adequate state support is essential to reaching agreement on a new union contract. “Our ability to attract and retain talented faculty is compromised by our inability today to reach a collective bargaining agreement,” Milliken testified. The chancellor spoke of the need for a contract “including retroactive increases that will recognize the commitment our faculty and staff have made over the last six years,” but added that “we cannot make an agreement we cannot pay for.”

The State’s broken promise on maintenance of effort comes in the context of a severe decline in funding over the past 25 years: after inflation, State support for CUNY’s senior and community colleges has fallen by one-third per full-time equivalent student (FTE). This year’s Executive Budget proposal does nothing to reverse that trend – in fact, it slashes funding for some successful and widely praised CUNY programs.

Zero Funding for ASAP

For example, the governor’s budget plan eliminates all funding for CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associates Programs (ASAP) initiative, which has gained national recognition for its record in boosting graduation rates through investing in increased support for students.

When President Obama announced his national plan for free community college, the White House singled out ASAP as a model for others to follow. Community colleges should “adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes, such as the effective ASAP programs at the City University of New York which waive tuition, help students pay for books and transit costs, and provide academic advising and supportive scheduling programs,” said a White House fact sheet on the federal plan.

And colleges nationwide are starting to follow CUNY’s lead. “CUNY is exporting its lauded Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) to Ohio, where three community colleges are piloting it this spring,” reported Capital New York on March 4. An Ohio Board of Regents official told Capital “that there are not significant differences between CUNY’s ASAP and Ohio’s implementation: ‘We’re really trying to adhere to the same model,’ he said.” Meanwhile, CUNY officials say that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has expressed interest in ASAP, calling it the best such program in the nation.

Albany insiders say that ASAP is likely to secure funding by the end of this year’s budget process: Governor Cuomo’s elimination of all ASAP funding is seen as a maneuver to increase his leverage in budget talks with the Assembly and State Senate, with the intent of for-cing them to give up something else in order to secure funding for a program with wide support. “He’s cynically using ASAP as a bargaining chip,” said one observer, “instead of holding it up as an example for the nation, a success that should make New Yorkers proud.”

Performance-Based Budgeting

Instead of building on proven successes like ASAP, the Executive Budget proposes shifting resources into a “performance-based” budgeting model, under which 10% of CUNY funding would depend on a set of “performance measures” that CUNY faculty say are dangerously short-sighted.

“In the absence of increased investment per student by the State, they could create dangerous pressure to cut educational corners for the sake of higher graduation rates, or worse – compromise CUNY’s historic mission,” the PSC said. Performance-based funding creates an incentive to enroll a student body that will generate the statistics needed to guarantee funding, especially when the statistics privilege graduation above all. In a society in which we are far from equal opportunity, such measures generate pressure to enroll students who are less likely to come from under resourced New York City schools, students who are less likely to be low-income and people of color…. Bad incentives lead to bad results.”

Financial Incentives

A requirement to condition State funding on “experiential learning” for all CUNY and SUNY students is also opposed by the PSC as micro-management and interference with curriculum decisions that can best be made by faculty.

Another performance-based plank in the Executive Budget would mandate “financial incentives for campus presidents who provide proven leadership resulting in commercialization of research through the Start-Up NY program,” which has established tax-free zones for businesses at many SUNY and CUNY campuses (see Clarion, May 2014).

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee, warned that this proposal “could create dangerous conflicts of interest,” reported Capital New York. “At a time when we’re talking about how important ethics are, I don’t think that it’s appropriate changing the role of a college president into a venture capitalist,” Glick said. The PSC also opposes these proposed bonuses as a diversion from college presidents’ main mission.

Proposed measures

In addition to funding real maintenance of effort and rejecting performance-based funding, the PSC asked legislators to:

  • Restore community college funding with a base aid increase of $250 per FTE student, for a total increase of $19.5 million;
  • Support CUNY’s request for $23.3 million in programmatic increases, including plans to hire 500 additional full-time faculty;
  • Approve $4.3 million for legislative initiatives in both senior and community colleges, restoring funds that the Executive Budget would cut for ASAP, opportunity programs like SEEK, and other successful CUNY programs;
  • Pass the NY State DREAM Act, providing financial aid for undocumented students who are New York residents, with $27 million in funding. The union also backed proposals of the Coalition to Reform TAP to update New York’s Tuition Assistance Program for the 21st century, and called for $8.4 million to cover the cost of CUNY’s tuition waivers for students who receive the maximum TAP award;
  • Fully fund CUNY’s $1.4 billion capital budget request, for “critical maintenance and new construction needs.”

The PSC also urged legislators to oppose the Executive Budget’s attempts to force major policy changes through the budget process. The union said the Executive Budget is wrong to link the NY State DREAM Act with the proposed “Education Income Tax Credit,” which the PSC called “an unjust use of public dollars for private schools.” The PSC also opposes the Executive Budget’s changes in teacher education policy, and urged legislators to reject them. (See also the May 2014 Clarion.)

After several years of on-time State budgets, sometimes even adopted days before the April 1 deadline, Albany observers say that the stubborn conflicts this year could cause a budget agreement to be delayed. As always, key developments may happen in the last few days of March.

To stay informed on what actions you can take, sign up for the union’s electronic newsletter, This Week in the PSC and check the PSC website.

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