Senate, Assembly lawmakers eye boost for state school aid

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ALBANY — Democratic state lawmakers on Monday rejected proposed cuts to state education funding and called for using federal money to supplement state dollars in budget bills.

The legislative budget bills amount to a collective rejection of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, which partly included offsetting a reduced state school aid expenditure with an infusion of federal dollars. Education leaders and analysts expressed concern the governor’s proposal would exacerbate a “funding cliff” set up if one-time federal aid is spent and state funding is reduced.

Instead, the Democratic-controlled Legislature in the two chambers’ proposals embraced the argument that federal aid should be used to “supplement not supplant,” calling for a nearly $1.4 billion increase in state foundation aid, the core source of state school aid for districts. The proposals also rejected Cuomo’s plan to cut $1.35 billion in reimbursements to districts for the STAR tax benefit.

Lawmakers included a handful of other policy proposals backed by education advocacy groups, including rejecting a Cuomo proposal to consolidate various reimbursement-based funding categories. The bills also included provisions to increase fiscal flexibility for districts to more easily carry funds over from year to the next as they grapple with complex multi-year funding issues in the coming years. The budget proposals also address a handful of reimbursement issues related to transportation contracts when school was disrupted in the spring and districts used buses to deliver supplies and meals or held contractors on standby in case schools reopened.

The proposals marked another round of welcome news within the education community, which scored a major boost in federal support over the coming years under the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill President Joe Biden signed into law last week. That bill provides about $8 billion in direct aid to districts as well as broader state funding that eases the state’s overall budget challenges, reducing the risk of that state education funding cuts will be needed to address budget shortfalls, all of which comes on top of another $4 billion in direct aid to New York districts included in federal stimulus passed in December.

“The Senate majority is moving forward with a transformational increase in state and federal resources ensuring that students receive a high-quality education,” Democratic state Senate leaders said in a release trumpeting their budget proposal. State lawmakers still have until April 1 to finalize a budget deal with Cuomo.

While the federal direct aid to districts approved in December is earmarked for next school year, it’s not clear when or how the $8 billion in the latest bill will be directed to districts. The aid is meant to help schools recover from the impacts of COVID-19, and 20 percent of the aid must be used to address student learning loss.

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