by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

School funding will be a focal point of the state budget negotiations after Governor Hochul’s budget proposal caught elected officials and school leaders off-guard due to changes to Foundation Aid, which represents about 70 percent of total school aid.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Foundation Aid, the 2007-08 state budget implemented this aid formula to target additional funds based on education needs, demographic data, and wealth following litigation by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

However, due to the Great Recession, the State Budget and Reform Act of 2007 and Foundation Aid formula were never fully implemented or funded. Furthermore, school aid was cut by billions from 2009 to 2017.

In October 2021, Governor Hochul announced that the state reached an agreement to fully fund Foundation Aid. A budget bill signed into law in April 2022 indicated that Foundation Aid would be funded at 100 percent by the 2023-24 school year “and thereafter.”

While Foundation Aid is projected to increase by $500 million statewide next fiscal year, the Governor is proposing two changes which reduce the amount of aid expected under current law by $420 million. This includes an adjustment to how the state calculates inflation that takes a 10-year average and drops the highest and lowest years rather than using the actual calculated consumer price index (CPI) from the previous calendar year as current law states. The Governor is also proposing to do away with “hold harmless” or “save harmless,” a long-standing provision that provided districts with aid no less than what they are currently receiving.

As a result, all 673 districts in New York State would receive less Foundation Aid than what was expected. Moreover, about half of districts would receive deep cuts. In Columbia and Greene counties, this ranges from about $82,000 less aid in Coxsackie-Athens to $2.7 million less aid in Taconic Hills and $2.9 million in Hudson. Collectively, the 22 districts in Questar III BOCES region would lose $13.4 million in aid – and at a time when federal stimulus funding ends in September.

While many say the current budget proposal falls short, the solution to our school funding challenges has been pushed off for far too long. It is time for the state to update a funding formula created before the state’s property tax cap, which has further expanded the gap between richer and poorer districts. The state must invest money to study and modernize the Foundation Aid formula to ensure that the state fulfills its Constitutional promise to our state’s children.

New Yorkers will vote on school budgets on May 21. While lawmakers have a deadline to adopt a state budget for the new fiscal year on April 1, there is already worry about an on-time budget. With Easter falling on March 31, lawmakers will not be in session during its annual deadline. Moreover, the Assembly and Senate only have eight scheduled session days in April, which includes Passover starting on April 22. School boards are required to adopt a spending plan by April 23 whether the Governor and Legislature have reached an agreement or not. Given this scenario, we have advised school leaders to plan for multiple budgets before finalizing spending plans.

Those reacting to the proposed budget may say it is too little or too much, but when it comes to our students, it should be clear that it is pay now or pay much more later if they are not successful. We must view our considerable spending on public education as an investment that yields substantial returns rather than a year-to-year expense. Moreover, elected officials must be reminded of their promises to fulfil the guarantee of equitably funded education for all New York’s students.

The challenges ahead are numerous, but we must not relent on behalf of our students. Learn more by finding out how this proposal impacts your district and contact your state representatives to let them know the importance of your schools having the financial resources and to continue funding the programs and supports our students need.

This column appeared in the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.

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