ALBANY, N.Y. — The State Senate is expected to approve the next year's fiscal budget on Sunday, and with it, a bill that would make college tuition free at 2- and 4-year public colleges for middle class families.
Starting this fall, students will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn less than $100,000 per year, that cap will bump up to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.
“I hope we do get free tuition because we really need it," said Michaela Lawson, a freshman at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "Especially, you know, families here in New York. We, not a lot of us, make a lot of money so it would be really helpful.”
More than 940,000 families with college-age children across New York would qualify.
“I definitely think that I would fall into that category," said Rachel Ahern, a junior at F.I.T.
Louise Ahern, Rachel’s mom, is paying for two kids' college tuitions at the same time.
“We’re middle class, it’s very hard," she said. "I just went back to work after being home for a number of years, and that was for health insurance and to pay for two colleges.”
Eligible students must be enrolled full-time and average 30 credits per year to get funding. You must maintain a passing grade point average.
Recipients must also stay in-state after college for the same number of years that they got free tuition. Otherwise, their scholarship would be converted into loans.
Room and board expenses would not be covered by the Excelsior Scholarship.
The program is expected to cost New York $163 million in the first year.
Here's a look at the details of the budget's biggest initiatives:
Students from families making $125,000 will be eligible for free tuition at state universities and colleges under Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship program, the first initiative of its kind in the country. The program won't cover room and board, however, and students must be enrolled full time and maintain sufficient grades and residency requirements.
The initiative will be phased in over three years, with families making $100,000 or less eligible in the fall of 2017, with the threshold rising to $125,000 in 2019. About 940,000 families in the state will meet the income criteria when the program is fully implemented.
The budget also has $19 million for a new tuition award program for students at private colleges.
Raising the age of criminal responsibility for 16- and 17-year-old offenders emerged as a top priority for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and other Democrats and also was one of the greatest sticking points for a budget. The agreement will raise the age slowly, to 17 in October 2018 and to 18 a year later.
Under the deal, young offenders will no longer be incarcerated in adult prisons and jails but will go to juvenile facilities where they can receive additional rehabilitation and treatment.
Similar reforms have been proposed in North Carolina, the only other state with such a young age of criminal responsibility.
After years of failed attempts, Uber and Lyft finally will be able to move into upstate cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse,
Rochester and Albany. The ride-hailing apps had been limited to the New York City area but are expected to begin service upstate 90 days after the budget is approved.
Counties and cities with a population of 100,000 or more will have the power to opt out, though many upstate mayors already have gone on record supporting ride-hailing.
The budget continues a phased-in middle-class tax cut and expands child care tax credits.
The budget also includes $200 million to fight heroin and opioid addiction, $2.5 billion to protect water quality and upgrade the state's aging water and sewer systems and the approval of $2.5 billion to address homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing. It also has an affordable housing tax credit for New York City developers and increases school funding by $1.1 billion to $25.8 billion overall.
WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED
Tighter campaign finance laws, term limits for lawmakers and new rules restricting outside income were left out of the budget again this year. Following widespread complaints from last year's elections, Cuomo proposed changes, including early voting and automatic registration, but those weren't included in the final agreement either.