The Schenectady City School District's budget would require state approval — in addition to the annual local budget vote — under a proposal in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget.
Otherwise, the district won’t be eligible for more state aid.
The provision would take effect immediately for the state’s five biggest districts and would expand to include another 10 districts starting with the 2019-20 budget, including Schenectady. Those districts, which include at least nine schools and get more than half of their funding from the state, would need to submit spending plans for approval by the state education commissioner and budget director.
The state officials would look at whether the district was properly allocating resources to its neediest schools.
Cuomo argued the proposal would hold districts to account and ensure they spent state dollars on the programs in which student needs are the greatest.
“It’s not enough to give funding to the poor districts,” Cuomo said during his budget presentation Tuesday. “You have to make sure the money goes to the poorer schools in the poorest districts.”
While the proposal was quickly opposed by the New York School Boards Association Tuesday night, on Wednesday a New York-based group devoted to improving education for poor and minority students said the proposal was a positive move toward ensuring funding inequities within districts are addressed.
“We think it’s a really important step, potentially,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-New York. “It requires action in school districts in how they allocate funds, and that could be a driver of equity.”
The governor’s proposal comes at a time when all school districts will be forced to publish school-level funding data, under federal requirements that take effect next school year. Proponents of the added financial reporting requirements argue they will shed more light on funding distributions within school districts and pressure officials to allocate funding fairly across schools.
Rosenblum said the state also needs to fund poor districts at a higher level, but that the need for more money shouldn’t get in the way of greater district-level transparency.
“At the same time the state should be increasing its funding, we also need to ask questions about how school districts are making local decisions about how to divide up local and state resources,” Rosenblum said.
The governor’s proposal was included in legislative language released with the executive budget. If passed, the bill would require the districts to report to state officials “the approach used to allocate funds to each school,” along with specific school-by-school information on student demographics and funding. The state Education Department would be required to set criteria by which the district spending plans would be judged, including student needs and per-pupil funding levels.
The state School Boards Association, in a prepared statement issued Tuesday night, said the “additional layer of bureaucracy proposed in the budget is unnecessary.”
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring, while still not sure if the proposal would impact Schenectady on Tuesday, argued the new requirement was an attempt to divert attention from overall funding levels that fall short of what the state’s own formula says school districts like Schenectady need.
He said the district already drives some resources to its neediest schools, particularly federal grant dollars, but he also said funding differentials between schools is largely a function of the experience of teachers in certain schools and their commensurate pay. The movement of teachers between schools is governed by the district’s teachers contract.
“What’s being said is we don’t want to fully fund black and brown districts, because we think they are mismanaging their money, and before we give them any more money, we want them to subject their spending plan to another round of approvals beyond the local governance requirements that already exist,” Spring said on Tuesday.