Governor outlines school aid proposal and educational initiatives in Executive Budget Proposal

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a state budget proposal on Tuesday, Jan. 17, that includes a $1 billion increase in overall funding for the state’s schools in the 2017-18 school year. The governor’s plan includes targeted funding to support high-need districts with community schools, pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, and discontinuing the use of the original Foundation Aid Formula in determining future state aid increases.

The Executive Budget Proposal is the formal beginning of budget negotiations between the governor and the New York State Legislature, with a final state budget due by April 1. Under the governor’s proposal, total school aid for 2017-18 would be $25.6 billion, which represents a statewide increase of 3.9 percent.

The bulk of the funding increase would go toward three areas: $428 million in additional Foundation Aid, which is the primary source of funding for everyday school operations; $333 million to reimburse districts for designated expenses such as transportation, construction and BOCES services; and a $150 million “Fiscal Stabilization Fund,” which would be allocated through a method still to be determined.

Funding falls short of recommendations; Foundation Aid concerns

The governor’s proposed increase in education funding falls short of recommendations advanced this fall by the Board of Regents and the Educational Conference Board, a coalition of the state’s major education groups.

The Regents have called for an overall $2.1 billion increase in school funding for 2017-18, and ECB estimates $1.5 billion is necessary just to continue current school services next year.

Both ECB and the Regents called for the state to renew its commitment to Foundation Aid, the formula enacted in 2007 to ensure all school districts have the funding needed to provide students with a sound, basic education. As the recession affected state finances, the phase-in of Foundation Aid stalled and the state currently owes schools $4.3 billion in Foundation Aid based on the formula that is written into current law.

Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal adjusts the Foundation Aid Formula to steer more funds to high-need districts. It also seeks to discontinue the provisions of the formula that call for it to be fully funded over time. Instead, beginning in 2018-19, districts would only be guaranteed the amount of Foundation Aid they receive in 2017-18, with any state aid increase to be allocated through a method that is to be determined.

This has prompted some education advocacy groups to raise concerns that the original intent of Foundation Aid – providing districts with adequate and predictable funding each year based on student needs – will never be realized.

Targeted education initiatives in budget proposal

The governor’s state budget plan calls for funding to address a series of targeted initiatives and programs:

  • Community Schools: The proposed Foundation Aid increase contains a $50 million “set aside” to continue efforts to turn schools designated as “struggling” and those in other high-need districts into community hubs that provide before- and after-school programs, mentoring, summer learning activities and health services.
  • After-school Programming: The proposal includes $35 million in new funding to expand after-school programs for students in schools located in 16 communities that are part of an existing poverty-reduction initiative.
  • Prekindergarten: The proposal includes $5 million to continue the state’s pre-kindergarten initiative for three- and four-year olds, with a focus on expansion in high-need areas that currently do not have prekindergarten.
  • Early College High School: The proposal includes $5.3 million to expand early college high school programs, with a focus on developing computer science programs.
  • Advanced Placement Test Assistance for Families: The proposal includes $2 million to help low-income students with the cost of taking AP exams.
  • Teacher Recognition & Professional Development: The proposal includes $240,000 to expand the Master Teachers program and the Empire State Excellence in Teaching awards, which recognize teachers and foster professional growth.
  • Cyberbullying: The proposal includes $300,000 to fund certain school-based initiatives to combat cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment.
  • STAR: The proposal would hold the value of STAR (School Tax Relief) exemptions for property taxpayers at existing levels rather than allowing them to grow at the current rate of 2 percent annually. It would also make participation in an income verification program mandatory for recipients of Enhanced STAR benefits.
  • Charter Schools: The proposal includes $22 million to help public school districts make tuition payments to charter schools as well as additional support for charter schools in New York City.
  • Non-Public School Funding: The proposal includes an additional $181 million to reimburse non-public schools for state-mandated activities and $25 million to enhance classroom technology in non-public schools.