The push to protect public school funding in New York is crossing party lines ahead of a joint budget hearing on education Thursday. Teachers, lawmakers and education advocates have decried Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed changes to school aid, which would lead to cuts in funding for many districts, especially in rural parts of the state. In response, Hochul has insisted that she is increasing, not cutting, school funding. State Senate Republicans Monday joined the fight against the proposed cuts with a rally in the Capitol. The tenor of their pushback is markedly more partisan than that of educators or Democrats.
“This conference, under the leadership of Sen. Ortt, is not going to go quietly into the night,” said Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco, “allowing this budget, this governor, all the levers of power here, to balance this terrible budget on the backs of our kids and our educational system and backslide more from the progress we made.”
Tedisco said migrants and asylum-seekers are being protected via Hochul’s budget proposals at the cost of New York’s students.
“We have high-need, low-wealth (school) districts,” Tedisco said. “They’re not being taken care of.”
That afternoon state Senate Republicans announced a legislative package that would increase school funding, reverse proposed cuts, increase building safety and prohibit migrants from being housed at public school grounds in New York.
They’re not the only ones who are upset. New York State United Teachers President Melinda Person has spoken about how Hochul’s proposed increase hides cuts in funding to school districts, some of which are already at risk financially. “It seems like it was a sort of arbitrary adjustment to save money,” Person told City & State Monday. “But it ends up costing schools hundreds of millions of dollars in money that they are entitled to under the formula.”
Hochul’s proposed budget would see an additional $825 million go toward education in the new fiscal year. Person and others concerned about the level of funding for public schools point to proposed changes in the Foundation Aid formula. Hochul wants to do away with a budget stipulation that prevents a school's funding from being less than the year before. She also wants to change how the consumer price index is calculated, switching to a 10-year average, rather than calculating based on the previous year. There is $207 million earmarked for “Transition Adjustment” in Hochul’s budget proposal meant to smooth over the reduced funding some districts will see.
“There are certain districts that will get more money, certain districts that will get less money,” said Hochul spokesperson Avi Small. “What the governor has proposed this year provided more aid to schools than has ever been provided in the history of New York.”
After pushing back at the idea that Hochul’s proposed formula change is a cut based on the funding changes schools will see, he added, “There are many stakeholders out there making their voices heard about that part.”
Hochul has pointed at declining enrollment figures for schools as a reason for the funding change. But Person said a district's declining enrollment numbers aren’t indicative of its funding needs when overhead remains the same.
“The best example I would use is there's been a 10% loss of enrollment,” Person said. “If you have a classroom with 25 kids, and you now have 22 kids, how much money did you save?...It's not as simplistic as statewide there's 10% less kids so therefore we can ignore inflation.”
Democratic upstate lawmakers, while not drawing a connection between the continued influx of migrants and school aid like their GOP counterparts, have also raised the alarm about cuts that would come to their districts. This month state Sen. John Mannion said that he planned to fight to prevent the cuts and state Sen. Pete Harckham called the funding changes, “a step backwards and an insult to students, educators and taxpayers,” in a statement.
Person said she was optimistic that lawmakers would successfully prevent school districts from receiving less aid. She added she was even open to discussing changes to the Foundation Aid formula.
“If they want to have a conversation about what's the appropriate (consumer price index), I can have that conversation,” Person said. “But this is just an arbitrary cut.”