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Tax Reform Victory! What’s next?

December 13, 2011
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by Nikki Jones

Nikki Jones, Communications Director of AQE

This month’s tax reform agreement is a milestone in the fight to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to learn and are prepared for college and careers. Along with grassroots organizations, parents, students, educators, community members, and of course Occupiers, we affected a change to New York State’s tax structure.

Without the tax reform, we would have lost a total of $4.5 billion in revenue when the current Millionaires’ Tax expires on December 31. While the new plan doesn’t match the revenue of the Millionaires’ Tax, it will create an additional $2 billion by creating new income brackets and tax rates.

Personal income tax reform is a step in the right direction for fairness but students are still in schools with overcrowded classrooms, fewer teachers and severely reduced or eliminated educational programs. For New York City, the recent budget cuts have taken more than 2600 teachers – through attrition – and more than 700 school employees, as well as arts, music and, after-school programs and many other essential services that our children need to succeed.

Simply put, our children deserve more. The Governor and the Legislature must crack down on corporations who are not paying their fair share and are leaving our children and families to suffer the cost.

It is critical that we demand that the Governor and the State Legislature follow the lead of the State Board of Regents by amending state school aid formula to place greater priority on funding high needs and average needs schools. In 2011, New York State abandoned its commitment to equity in school funding and made much larger cuts to poor school districts than to wealthy ones. The Regents are proposing fixes to the school aid formula that would prioritize providing funding for needy schools.

Failure to enact these policies will once again shortchange the highest needs students and continue the practice of putting the needs of wealthier suburban communities ahead of cities large and small and poor rural upstate schools. The issue of inequity in school aid is all about politics–too often wealthy suburban senators influence their colleagues and pass budgets that result in shortchanges for high needs schools.

The Regents proposal includes several key reforms that would prioritize high needs districts:

  • Getting rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a new factor in the school aid formula this year. The GEA allows wealthy districts to get higher percentage increases.
  • Modifications to building aid formulas by eliminating provisions that prioritize wealthy districts. Beginning in 2013-14 the Regents project that these changes would produce $470 million annually that could be committed to classroom aid.
  • Reform school transportation aid beginning in 2013-14 in order to prioritize high needs districts.

New York State ranks 47th in the nation in the funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts. The 2007 funding reform in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) was designed to close this gap. However, after only two years of CFE funding, the policies were reversed by funding cuts in 2010 and 2011 that were much larger for poor districts than wealthy ones.

Our 2012 campaign will continue our demand for all-around fairness. Fairness for personal taxes. Fairness for corporate taxes. And a fair distribution of school funding so that every child is given an opportunity to learn.

Nikki Jones is the Communications Director of the Alliance for Quality Education (www.aqeny.org)

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