Hochul proposes more than $800 million funding increase for NY schools, 4-year extension of mayoral control

A woman wearing a dark suit walks through a doorway with light tan walls on both sides.
Gov. Kathy Hochul arrives for a press conference signing legislation creating a commission for the study of reparations in New York on Dec. 19, 2023. On Tuesday, Hochul unveiled her budget proposals, including her support for mayoral control in NYC. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

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Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a more than $800 million increase in funding for the state’s public schools, while also calling for a four-year extension of New York City’s polarizing mayoral control system.

The proposals came Tuesday as Hochul presented her $233 billion 2025 state budget, building on the hundreds of policy initiatives announced last week in her State of the State address. Her budget proposal also set aside $10 million for teacher training to support a statewide literacy initiative that Hochul hopes will encourage schools to adopt new curriculums.

The governor’s call to extend New York City’s centralized school governance structure is in some ways unsurprising. She advocated for the same extension in 2022, though lawmakers eventually approved only a two-year extension and tasked the state’s Education Department with compiling a report on how effective the system has been.

But her support for mayoral control comes just months before the release of that report, and follows a series of public hearings in New York City where the status quo has been hotly contested. Scores of educators have flocked to the hearings to call for the system to be revised or overturned, citing grievances with the educational policies of Mayor Eric Adams and his predecessors.

Outside of the education budget, Hochul’s proposal also called for $2.4 billion to provide shelter and other basic services to migrants and asylum seekers — including providing humanitarian aid to New York City. That funding would draw $500 million from the state’s reserves, Hochul said. She also proposed millions to support mental health programs and services.

Hochul’s budget proposal marks the start of negotiations with lawmakers over how the state should allocate its funding in the next fiscal year, which begins in April. During a press conference after her budget presentation, Hochul affirmed to reporters that she would not consider raising income taxes to increase spending on schools or other issues, regardless of what lawmakers propose.

Here are the education highlights from Hochul’s budget presentation:

Increase to school aid, though smaller than previous years

Hochul wants to spend $825 million more on the state’s schools — a 2.4% funding jump from last year’s budget. That increase would bring the state’s total education tab to more than $35.3 billion — the highest level of state aid in history.

New York City would receive $13.3 billion under the proposal — a funding increase of roughly $341 million, or about 2.5%, according to figures released by the state.

The bulk of the spending jump comes from a proposed $507 million increase to Foundation Aid, the state formula that calculates how much funding each school district receives and sends more dollars to higher-need districts. Lawmakers committed to fully funding the formula for the first time in 2021, with districts seeing the additional funding phased in over three years.

The proposed increase to Foundation Aid was driven largely by inflation, but came as a smaller jump than previously anticipated.

Hochul’s budget proposal included two changes to Foundation Aid, according to the state’s budget director, Blake Washington. The first would alter how the formula accounts for inflation, shifting to using a 10-year average rate in calculations. It would also modify a provision that prevented districts who saw enrollment drops from losing money.

“Seventy-five percent of the districts that would experience a change under this recommendation have lost more than 20% of their pupil count since the Foundation Aid formula was adopted,” Washington said.

Hochul’s Tuesday proposal represented a more modest increase in school funding than in recent budgets — and less than the $1.3 billion increase that the state’s Board of Regents called for last month. Last year, for example, the state budget increased school aid by $3 billion.

“As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the past two years,” Hochul said in her budget presentation. “No one could have expected the extraordinary jumps in aid to recur annually.”

An additional $20 billion had been funneled to schools over the course of the pandemic between federal and state aid, Hochul said, noting that K-12 enrollment had declined over the past decade.

In a statement, Alliance for Quality Education, a school funding advocacy group, questioned the governor’s decision to change the Foundation Aid formula, noting the budget proposal contained $475 million less in school aid than previously anticipated.

“We agree there needs to be an update to the Foundation Aid formula, but it must be a process involving the State Education Department and engaging communities, with the goal of more accurately capturing students’ growing needs, not as a penny-pinching budgeting strategy,” said Marina Marcou-O’Malley, the group’s interim co-executive director. “What now remains to be seen is which districts the nearly half a billion dollars that we expected to see in the Governor’s proposal for schools were taken from.”

Hochul’s proposal also comes as the city’s schools and districts across the state face the end of billions of dollars in one-time federal COVID relief funds, which are set to dry up in September.

Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, urged the state to commit further funding to support school districts that have relied on those funds to prop up essential programs.

“New York City alone is spending around $1 billion per year in expiring federal funding to pay for 450 school social workers, 3-K expansion, legally mandated preschool special education programs, 75 shelter-based community coordinators, community schools, 60 psychologists, bilingual programming, literacy initiatives, and more,” she said in a statement. “While we appreciate that the Governor is proposing to increase overall education funding, this moment in time demands more.”

Call to extend mayoral control

With the current New York City school governance structure set to expire on June 30, Adams will return to Albany this legislative session to make his case for retaining control of the city’s schools. With Hochul’s budget proposal Tuesday, it appears the governor remains the mayor’s ally in that effort.

Her budget called for a four-year extension of the current school governance structure, which gives the mayor the power to select the schools chancellor and appoint a majority of members to the city’s Panel on Educational Policy, or PEP, which votes on major policy proposals and contracts.

But that system has faced heavy critique at public hearings held by state education officials across four boroughs in recent months. Speakers who have called for the current system to be amended have repeatedly asked for further checks and balances to be placed on the mayor’s power, particularly when it comes to the PEP.

At a hearing in the Bronx last month, Naveed Hasan, one of five PEP members elected by the city’s parent councils, alleged his own role on the panel was “a farce.”

“The majority of the members on the PEP are appointed by the mayor and never act independently, always approving whatever City Hall finds politically expedient,” said Hasan, who represents Manhattan. “My role on the PEP is rendered meaningless under a rubber-stamp panel under mayoral control.”

Meanwhile, defenders of the current system — like schools Chancellor David Banks — have argued it creates accountability by centralizing decisions. They say it represents an improvement over the previous system, which relied on a fractured and sometimes corrupt collection of school boards across the city.

If enacted, the proposed four-year extension would represent the longest one-time extension of mayoral control since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s time in office. Though the system has been renewed regularly (with some tweaks) over the past two decades, former Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly failed to secure the lengthy extension deals that had been given to his predecessor. (Bloomberg received extensions of six and seven years.)

In a statement Tuesday, state Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Senate’s New York City education committee, criticized the governor’s decision to weigh in on mayoral control in her budget proposal.

“School governance and whether mayoral control should be continued or replaced by a more effective system must be informed by the [state Education Department] study,” he said. “It’s simply premature and senseless to lump mayoral control in with the state budget.”

Regardless of how the city’s school governance structure moves forward, Liu previously told Chalkbeat that lawmakers should seek to establish a more permanent system this year.

Reevaluating it at two- or four-year intervals is “destabilizing for the school system,” he said, adding, “There needs to be more certainty in the eyes of educators as well as families.”

Higher education, swimming instruction, and other initiatives

Hochul’s budget proposal also earmarked millions of dollars to support several policy initiatives that would impact the state’s young people.

It provides more than $200 million in new, recurring funding for state- and city-operated college campuses, commits $150 million to creating equitable opportunities for swimming instruction, and invests millions of additional dollars across multiple mental health initiatives.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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