In first legislative testimony, Carranza decries Cuomo’s proposed school funding formula

Chancellor Richard Carranza said Wednesday Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pitch for a new state education funding formula would harm a majority of New York City Schools.

In his first legislative testimony at a state budget hearing in Albany, Carranza touted the school system’s accomplishments, such as rising graduation rates, before telling lawmakers that Cuomo’s proposal would shift most new funding away from 1,300 city schools. Instead, 75 percent of new dollars New York City would receive next year — under Cuomo’s proposal — would be filtered to just 22 percent of city schools.

Cuomo’s proposed formula would require districts to send a majority of new state dollars to certain needy schools. City officials said they came up with their numbers after reviewing Cuomo’s definition of high-needs schools in his budget legislation. That formula, according to Carranza, would also mean that there would be no new money for 87 of the 124 city schools that the state just identified as struggling and in need of improvement plans.

“Some of those schools may be forced to make hard decisions—we would be taking from Peter to pay Paul,” Carranza said.

In a statement, Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall did not directly answer a question about the data Carranza shared. Conwall said Cuomo has proposed the “highest education funding levels in state history.”

“We want to ensure this funding actually goes to the schools that need it most, so the budget builds on the State’s first ever collection and reporting of school-level financial data by requiring schools to dedicate a significant portion of their Foundation Aid increases to address inequities in their neediest schools,” Conwall said. 

Cuomo has proposed boosting state education dollars by $1 billion compared to last year. That’s still $1.1 billion short of what state education officials have requested — most of that for an increase in foundation aid dollars, a formula that directs extra money to high-needs districts. Cuomo’s administration has bristled at boosting foundation aid because it was created under a lawsuit that Cuomo argues has been long settled, calling it a “ghost of the past.”

Cuomo has paired the proposal of this formula with transparency on how districts are distributing their funds. Last year, Cuomo successfully pushed through a law that requires certain districts to report how they’re distributing state dollars.

Cuomo’s administration has asserted that districts across the state, including New York City, are not sending more money to the most needy schools. New York City spends thousands of dollars more per student in high-needs schools. A Chalkbeat analysis found that the city’s own funding formula sends more dollars to schools with hard-to-serve students, such as those with disabilities or those from low-income families. Advocates and some lawmakers have said those additional dollars are still insufficient. 

State lawmakers at the hearing, union leaders, and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia testified that Cuomo’s proposal does not go far enough.

In her own testimony, Elia said implementing Cuomo’s proposed formula would be “an incredibly difficult process” for her department, and that school districts have the best idea of how to spend state money.

Familiar faces who support boosting foundation aid, like Manhattan Sen. Robert Jackson and Queens Sen. John Liu, doubled down on the need to boost education dollars significantly more than what Cuomo has pitched.

Carranza was peppered with questions during his nearly two-hour testimony about different topics: among them, mayoral control, concerns about expanding 3-K, and the city’s own Fair Student Funding Formula. Some lawmakers asked how Carranza would help boost its own funding formula so that individual schools received more money; Carranza said a key solution would be first getting more state support.