New York’s education policymakers want legislators to boost spending for the state’s schools by $2.1 billion.
Unlike in past fiscal years, their wish will likely be granted.
The Board of Regents unveiled a $31 billion budget proposal Monday that reflected a promise made by state lawmakers earlier this year: to fully fund the Foundation Aid formula by the 2024 fiscal year, which starts in April 2023. That formula provides the funding base for school districts and sends more money to those with higher needs.
Because of that promise, coupled with a separate legal agreement to pay school districts what they’re owed, state lawmakers will likely meet the Board of Regents’ budget demands on behalf of districts for the fiscal year starting on April 1, 2022.
The board’s request this year “doubles down on our efforts to create a more equitable and inclusive education system to better support New York’s diverse student population,” Chancellor Lester Young Jr. said in a statement.
On top of boosting Foundation Aid, state officials want more funding for several initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, including more than $6 million toward improving education for children in the juvenile justice system, $200,000 for their work rethinking graduation requirements, and $250,000 to compile a set of culturally responsive resources for schools.
The budget climate is vastly different than it was at this time last year, when schools were threatened with potential cuts if federal COVID relief did not come through. In the end, federal stimulus dollars brought an influx of cash to the state, including $7 billion for New York City schools alone. Separately, with the help of tax increases, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to give schools what they were owed under Foundation Aid over the next two years. After long resisting to fully fund the formula, he reversed course around the time he faced allegations of sexual harassment that eventually led to his resignation.
Though Cuomo increased funding for schools during most of his time in office, earning New York the nation’s top spot for per pupil spending, he refused to heed calls from the Regents and other education advocates to fully fund Foundation Aid, arguing that the state wasn’t obligated to do so.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has already struck a different tone than Cuomo on school funding. Just two months after taking office, Hochul announced an agreement to settle a lawsuit that charged New York with underfunding Foundation Aid. The agreement requires New York to fully fund that formula by the 2024 fiscal year — essentially solidifying the promise made in this year’s budget – or risk reopening the lawsuit.
About 70% of the Regents’ proposed increase for schools is for Foundation Aid, which is money that districts can use flexibly. It helps pay for the individual school budgets in New York City.
The Regents are also calling for increases to specific programs or resources, such as money for instructional materials and building and transportation aid. This year, they’re calling for a $65 million boost in funding that districts receive for occupation and business education classes, such as career and technical education, or CTE. They want to double the $3,900 per student enrolled in CTE programs over the next three years, with a third of that increase coming in by next fiscal year. The current rate, officials said, has not been updated since the 1990s.
State officials believe that a lack of funding has made it challenging for districts, including New York City, to expand CTE options. Such a proposal may find a booster in Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who voiced support for career and technical education on the campaign trail.
Separate from aid for school districts, officials are also asking for more money to hire more staffers for the state education department itself. State officials say that the department has lost 700 full-time staffers over the past 13 years, and argue that the department’s responsibilities “have grown exponentially.”
Examples include a $1.85 million ask to pay for more staff who oversee and monitor the money that districts receive, and just over $905,000 for staff to help with grants, student mental health, and programs that serve high-need student populations.
Much of the state’s priorities matched those made recently by the New York State Educational Conference Board, a coalition of influential organizations, including the state teachers union.
Advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education largely lauded the Regents’ proposal, but they did not think the Regents’ call for a $7 million increase for universal pre-K was enough, noting in a statement that “many districts outside of New York City still do not provide Universal Pre-K.”
State officials and budget hawks will now look for Hochul’s budget proposal, which comes from the governor’s office in January. From there, both the state Assembly and the senate will craft their own proposals and will negotiate a final budget plan with the Hochul administration. Lawmakers must pass a plan by April 1.