Cuomo Rolls Out Proposed Increase in New York School Aid

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a significant increase in aid for New York public schools as legislators and districts clamor to have their schools’ needs met.

Within the $145 billion state budget, funding for education would increase to the tune of almost $1 billion for the next school year, an increase of 4.3 percent from current levels. As was expected, his proposal emphasize early childhood education.

The governor said that New York would continue to invest heavily in early education.

“In 2013, this legislature took the next step by expanding to full-day Pre-K,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address. “I propose $800 million in total funding, so we can once again partner with our local communities, and once again pay one hundred percent of the cost – because our children deserve the best.”

Cuomo pointed out that only 60% of communities in New York currently participate in the universal Pre-K program, but that he hopes to see the participation rise to 100%. Some of the money would also be used to expand early childhood education for three-year-olds. Currently, New York’s universal Pre-K program covers full-day classes for four-year-olds only.

Moreover, all sixteen school districts will receive funding under the new budget. The extra money received from the state will be used by schools to maintain and provide an array of services to students. Under the proposal, the Poughkeepsie City School District, a school system in which 86% of its students are considered economically disadvantaged, will receive the most state aid. The Poughkeepsie school board president, Ralph Coates, affirmed that New York policymakers “are listening to our concerns.”

Cuomo also laid out a two-year plan to pay back schools the money cut from them during the Great Recession, a sum of $443 million.

Educators, however, were hoping for almost $1 billion more in funding. As per tradition, the governor outlines his proposal, and then school districts launch campaigns to lobby their state legislators for more funding. Policymakers will not agree on the final amount of spending for nearly three more months.

These appeals for increased funding will feature editorial columns, phone banks, demonstrations in Albany, public rallies and meetings with state legislators — a ritual that public officials and educators go through each year. Cuomo’s proposal is a point of departure from which final figures will be decided after lengthy negotiations and fanfare.

This year, most educators will have to rely almost solely on state aid for funding. The tax cap in New York is expected to be close to zero. Consequently, districts will not be able to increase taxes without 60% of voters agreeing to a tax hike, an unlikely outcome. Thus, if districts will not be able to increase tax revenues themselves, schools will be all the more dependent on state aid.

Such fiscal realities explain why observers and educators watched Governor Cuomo’s funding rollout so closely, and so far, some educators are not satisfied by the initial forecasts. The executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium, Richard Timbs, called the governor’s proposals “anemic.” Additionally, Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan of Buffalo said that he welcomed the proposed increases but added that “we need to go further.”

Only time will tell if the upcoming negotiations will ameliorate critics’ concerns heading into the next school year.