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Debates over funding for public schools set to continue in 2020

Wally Gobetz/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Governor Cuomo wants New York State to send more money to less wealthy school districts. But after making that argument in his State of the State address Wednesday, some stakeholders are saying the state just needs to better fund education, period.

Longstanding criticisms of shortfalls in the education budget stem from the state’s failure to fully implement a funding system enacted in 2007 called the Foundation Aid formula, which was supposed to be more transparent than the old process.

“That’s really the key issue here is that schools have been shortchanged, even though it is a huge area of the state budget and even though the state certainly does invest in schools,” said New York State School Boards Association Director of Communications, Marketing and Research David Albert. “If you think about it, I mean, what’s more important than investing in our school system?”

Albert said NYSSBA supports the governor’s calls to drive more funds toward poorer districts but more importantly would like to see “adequate funding in general for schools.”

The Foundation Aid formula simplified the state’s process for distributing funds from thirty formulas to one, according to a 2019 report by the Alliance for Quality Education and the Public Policy Education Fund of New York. The new formula was used for a few years but then shelved amid financial deficits, and the state has used temporary, substitute formulas every year since 2012.

Albert said that’s resulted in public schools getting shortchanged by $3.4 billion.

“I think we could solve a lot of problems in school districts if we could let the Foundation Aid formula actually run the way it was intended to and fund schools the way that they were intended to be funded,” he said.

Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday that lawmakers in a progressive state like New York shouldn’t “play politics with education money.”

Credit Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives the 2020 State of the State address on Jan. 8, 2020.

“Fund the poorer schools and close the education gap—and let’s do it this year,” he said, speaking before both houses of the New York State Legislature.

Albert responded that revising education funding formulas is no easy task.

“We were off-the-charts complicated prior to Foundation Aid, now we’re still complicated just not as bad,” he said. “When you start tinkering with the formulas and changing the way that the funding is distributed it has an impact on every single elected official in the Legislature,” who all want to show their constituents they can secure money for public schools.

“We’ve never stopped talking to our local elected officials, both Democratic and Republican, about the need for just what the governor said: a funding formula that funds the poorer districts and a funding formula that it is equitable and can easily be followed and understood,” said Mark Laurrie, superintendent of the Niagara Falls City School District.

“We are a poor school district. We are a small city school district. We can’t raise taxes, we don’t have the population and the wealth in our city to do that, so the pledge from the governor is certainly appreciated and heard.”

Laurrie added that he would also like to see more funding for career and technical training, starting in 12th grade, and for other alternatives to college.

After funding, Albert, of NYSSBA, said his organization’s top priorities for 2020 include ensuring students have access to mental health services, addressing the vaping crisis in schools and protecting net neutrality.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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