CAPITOL — State education officials and advocacy groups on Tuesday said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $769 million education aid increase fell short of what is needed to support schools — and may set up district budget cuts.
In Schenectady, Superintendent Larry Spring said the proposal threatens more than $5 million in new programs and services the district supported in the current year’s budget.
“The governor’s proposal is basically saying let’s undo everything Schenectady just did, the improvements and increases we have seen this year,” Spring said. “I’m not as confident as I would like to be that we will be able to maintain the things we put in this year.”
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Spring was referring to investments the district made last year to establish a set of student services that mirrors how special education is delivered as well as an expansion of mental health services and other student programs.
In a joint statement Tuesday, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor Betty Rosa said they were concerned with the governor’s proposed state aid increase, which they pointed out was less than half of the $1.6 billion increase the Board of Regents proposed.
Advocacy groups offered sharper criticisms in their statements. The New York State School Boards Association called the proposed aid increase “simply inadequate.” High Achievement New York, a group that advocates for higher education standards, said the proposal “falls far short” of what is needed “just to maintain current services.”
And the Alliance for Quality Education, a group devoted to boosting funding in the state’s neediest districts, said the governor is “attempting to appear generous while perpetuating educational racism and economic inequality.”
During the education portion of Cuomo’s budget presentation, state Assemblyman Charles Barron interrupted the governor and shouted that the state’s failure to fully fund its own education funding formula was harming black and brown students more than others.
“This ain’t working, it’s not working,” Barron said of the state’s education funding. “It’s not enough.”
“It’s never enough,” Cuomo responded.
The governor defended the education increase, highlighting year-after-year of increases he has supported and calling on districts to demonstrate financial stewardship by limiting increases in construction and other non-classroom expenses.
The proposal included $15 million for expanding pre-kindergarten programs, $10 million for after-school activities and $6 million to expand computer science and engineering programs.
Cuomo called this year’s budget his “most challenging” yet and repeatedly argued the new federal tax law particularly harms New York. He said education advocates, health care advocates and others would all say the spending increases he proposed aren’t enough.
“Everyone is right, but everyone is wrong,” Cuomo said. “It’s a question of balancing resources.”
The governor’s state aid proposal included a $338 million increase to foundation aid, the state’s core education funding formula, with 70 percent of the increase targeted to the state’s poorest districts. The Regents proposal called for boosting foundation aid by more than $1.2 billion.
The governor’s proposal would increase Schenectady’s foundation aid by $1.58 million — about 1.7 percent. Spring said that falls far short of what the district will need to cover rising teacher pay and benefits and maintain current student programs — a starting hole of about $6.8 million, according to initial district projections.
Across the Capital Region, the foundation aid increases ranged from less than half a percent in wealthier or smaller districts to just over 2 percent in rural Schoharie County districts and 2.5 percent in Albany schools.
Another proposal included in the legislative language released Tuesday aims to force districts to demonstrate they are allocating money to their neediest schools. The proposal, which would apply to districts with at least nine schools and over 50 percent reliant on state funding, requires those districts to submit spending plans to the state education commissioner and the budget director for approval.
That proposal quickly raised the hackles of the State School Boards Association.
“Obviously, we have serious concerns about any proposal that would limit the decision-making authority of locally elected schools boards, particularly when it comes to allocating or distributing funds within their district,” Dave Albert, spokesman for the School Boards Association, said in an email statement. “The additional layer of bureaucracy proposed in the budget is unnecessary.”
By the numbers
|District||2017-18 foundation aid||Proposed 2018-19 foundation aid||% increase|
|South Glens Falls||$17,358,422||$17,627,765||1.6%|