The state Board of Regents on Monday narrowed in on a $2.4 billion education funding request to send the governor and Legislature as they take up next year’s budget.
The request would include $300 million earmarked for special initiatives, including expanding pre-kindergarten and providing money to so-called “struggling” schools, as well as more than $2 billion in direct funding to school districts.
The regents also committed to ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment — about $400 million owed to primarily average-income and affluent districts — but weren’t explicit about whether that would be accomplished this budget year.
The proposal, which the regents will formally vote on next month, accounts for about 3 percent in estimated cost increases for schools across the state. The board also expects tax caps to be especially low next year, limiting the ability of school districts to seek money from local taxpayers.
Regent Jim Tallon, who chairs the board’s state aid committee, said the proposal represented the board’s focus on covering the state’s $4.4 billion foundation aid shortfall in the coming years. The foundation aid formula allocates funding based on district needs.
“The main message is about our commitment to come back and say we were serious about foundation aid … we still maintain that commitment and understand the Gap Elimination Adjustment is something that has to be addressed over time,” Tallon said.
In a presentation to the board, Brian Cechnicki, state director of education finance, said at the proposed funding levels the state could eliminate the adjustment debts, cover other school expenses and increase foundation aid $1.3 billion.
More than 75 percent of the foundation aid shortfall is owed to high-need districts like Schenectady. Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring has said that if the foundation formula was fully funded, Schenectady could halve local school taxes and still invest heavily in new programs.
The funding proposal would also include $75 million to fund improvements in the states “struggling” schools. Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools in Schenectady have been classified as “struggling” but have not received extra funding to implement improvements since they aren’t “persistently struggling.”
More dollars would target expanding pre-kindergarten, $125 million, and improving family and community engagement strategies across the state, $50 million.
Chancellor Merryl Tisch added that she thought it was important for the board to stress the need to provide enough funding for the state Education Department to meet its objectives. The department’s funding is part of a separate request.
“We need to remind the public about the importance of funding and staffing the department commensurate with its responsibilities,” she said.