by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

Residents across the region and state will vote on school budgets and elect school board members on Tuesday, May 21. This vote – held on the third Tuesday each May – comes a month after the state finalized its spending plan for next year.

The final state budget includes $35.3 billion in total school aid for next year, which is $475.7 million more than what Governor Hochul proposed in January 2024. The spending plan also rejected the Governor’s proposal to change the way schools are funded (at least for this year). The state budget retains the “hold harmless provision,” which ensures that no district will receive less Foundation Aid in 2024-25 than it received in the current school year.

This year’s school budget development process was unique and challenging. In fact, the Educational Conference Board (ECB) – representing the statewide associations for teachers, superintendents, school board members, principals, and others – indicated that this was the first time districts had to deal with a state budget that was both untimely and uncertain since 2010 – and the first time since the state’s property tax cap took effect (in the 2012-13 school year). Federal stimulus funding provided to schools during the pandemic also ends in September 2024.

It is important to note each of our local school districts have different circumstances and situations impacting their specific budget proposals. Some school boards have had to make difficult decisions regarding balancing budgets and providing opportunities to students, including whether to reduce expenses through cuts to staffing, programs, or services.

I encourage you to learn more about your school district’s spending proposal and to vote. Please look for more information on your district’s website, in the news, or in any materials mailed to your home. School districts will hold a budget hearing between May 7-14 and mail a budget notice to eligible voters no later than six days prior to the vote, in accordance with state law. Contact your respective school district if you do not receive it.

The final state budget also included several other items that will impact districts in the future.

  • The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York must conduct a comprehensive review of the Foundation Aid Formula, which is the state’s largest aid category for schools, by December 1, 2024. The Institute will examine, evaluate, and recommend. This process will include a minimum of three public hearings across the state.
  • The State Education Department (SED) must establish new instructional best practices for the teaching of reading to pre-K to grade 3 students by January 1, 2025. Districts will be required to annually review their curriculum and instructional reading practices to ensure that they align with the state’s practices.
  • SED will also require school districts to receive verification from the parent, legal guardian, or student (if emancipated or 18 years of age or order) during their senior year that they have completed either a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Jose Peralta NYS Dream Act application, or a waiver stating they are aware but chose not to file one. Students will not be penalized for failing to complete the application. Each district must also notify high school seniors at least twice during the school year about available state scholarships and financial aid, and referrals for support completing the applications.

In recent years, New Yorkers have supported school budgets in record numbers. Last year, voters approved 98.4 percent of school budgets across the state. Please exercise your right to vote. I also encourage residents to learn more about any additional propositions put up by your school board, such as capital projects or school bus purchases, as well as review information on candidates running for the local school board.

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

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