A pair of local Republican state senators has come out in favor of a three-year phase-in of the state’s core education funding formula, a position held by the Board of Regents and Democratic lawmakers.
Sens. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, both signed onto a letter penned by Tedisco that called for spending $1.47 billion on the foundation aid formula this year and funding a total of $4.3 billion over three years – the amount state Education Department officials say it would take to fund all districts at the level spelled out in the formula intended to allocate funding based on student needs.
If the foundation aid formula was funded at those levels, Schenectady schools would see state aid increase by tens of millions of dollars; if funded at those levels, Superintendent Larry Spring has promised, local school taxes would be cut by as much as a third.
“We believe the foundation aid formula recognizes the needs of children living in poverty and communities without resources,” Tedisco wrote in the letter addressed to Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island and circulated to other Republican senators. “If we invest in our children and give them the resources they need to succeed, we will strengthen our communities by supporting them as they develop into young citizens.”
Republican Sens. Joseph Griffo, who represents a district that stretches north from Utica to the Canadian border, and Terrence Murphy, whose district covers Peekskill and parts of the lower Hudson Valley, also signed onto the letter, Tedisco said.
Tedisco and Amedore both said foundation aid can be funded within the state’s existing budget, with Tedisco citing tax credits for filmmakers and regional economic development funds as areas ripe for reallocations to education spending.
“There’s money available, it’s a question of we should be dealing with priorities, not just talking them but walking them,” Tedisco said. “They aren’t going to prepare kids for the jobs of the future,” he said of the movie tax credits.
Amedore emphasized that tax relief would follow increases in state funding to districts like Schenectady and throughout the region.
“I think it’s very important for the state to properly fund education, period,” Amedore said. “It’s relief for the property taxpayer and it’s doing the right thing in making education a top priority.”
For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not been inclined to accept the “full phase-in” position; his budget effectively eliminated the mechanism for calculating how much districts would receive under the foundation aid formula, which has been underfunded since 2010.
Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group that presses for increased foundation aid funding, said the Republican support represents a significant step toward a bipartisan, majority coalition in the Senate.
Democratic senators and members of the Independent Democratic Conference have also called for the three-year phase-in first laid out by the Regents earlier this year. Leaders of the Democratic Assembly majority have also highlighted the full foundation phase-in as a major priority.
But, Easton added, the senators’ position will carry weight only if they stand up for it during budget negotiations and debate.
“What this means is that the majority of the New York state Senate agrees with Sen. Tedisco and others that this foundation aid money is needed and needs to be in the budget,” Easton said. “It’s one thing to sign a letter, it’s another thing to actually do it in the budget, if this about more than posturing they will insist this money is in the budget.”