Cuts in education aid rile area lawmakers

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Courtesy of NYS Senate Communications Office. State Sen. Dan Stec questions State Education Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa at the joint legislative hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education.

By Doug LaRocque

Two weeks ago, Gov. Kathy Hochul released her 2024-25 fiscal year budget. One of the largest provisions of the spending plan each year is aid to education. Hochul is proposing spending $35.3 billion or a 2.4% increase.

Some of the changes the governor is proposing, however, do not sit well with many school districts, particularly when it comes to what is called foundation aid, the state’s main funding proponent of school aid.

Last year, the governor received praise for fully funding foundation aid and continuing the “save harmless” provision, which guaranteed all school districts received at least the same amount of foundation aid as they did the previous year. This year, the “save harmless” provision is being eliminated and the foundation aid calculations have changed.

State Sen. Jake Ashby, whose 43rd Senate district covers roughly half of Washington County, said he is outraged by the governor’s proposed changes, which he contends will cut more than $3 million from schools in his district.

Ashby said the changes to the state’s education aid formula “shortchanges many rural and suburban districts, cutting millions of dollars of badly needed aid relied upon to promote school safety, reverse pandemic learning loss and comply with a raft of state mandates.”

It’s worse in the 45th

State Sen. Dan Stec, whose 45th Senate district comprises most of northern New York and also significant portions of Washington County, said 24 school districts across this vast Senate district stand to lose a combined $8 million in aid if the governor’s proposals are not reversed by the state Legislature in the upcoming budget negotiations.

Stec participated last week in a Joint Legislative Hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education in the Executive Budget. He pledged to loudly add his voice to those in dissent with the governor’s plan.

State’s Education Commissioner has concerns as well

NYS Education Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa testified before the committee and answered lawmaker’s questions. In her opening statement, Rosa explained the Executive Budget makes three changes to foundation aid.

First, it replaces the single year inflation value with a multi-year average. She said while this may yield more stable results, the side effect here is it “reduces growth significantly in a year when inflation remained high.”

The second change, the reduction or elimination of the “save harmless” clause, results in a cut of $167.9 million across 337 districts. Rosa said the reductions are prorated based on district wealth “but occur primarily within rural districts and represent sizable reductions in many districts, especially those that have had the greatest enrollment declines.”

The budget does not include a minimum increase for all districts.

On a more positive note, Rosa said the third change increases the maximum state sharing ratio by 1%, which partially offsets the lower inflation factor.

NYSUT calls for changes

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has added its voice to those calling for a revision to the governor’s educational proposals. In a statement released Feb. 2, the union said the change to the inflation factor will underfund the foundation aid formula.

Coupled with the blunt cuts being proposed to “save harmless,” this will lead to a compounding loss of programs and services such as mental health, enrichments and staff to assist students for years to come.

A tough budget year

Local school budgets go before voters in May, but the work to prepare those budgets is just beginning. These changes to foundation aid are going to cause school boards and administrations to take a hard look at their revenue stream and make the corresponding spending cuts.

According to Ashby’s office, the Hartford Central School District will lose $139,758 in foundation aid.

Hartford Superintendent of Schools Andrew Cook said, “Schools are being asked to provide more and more services.” Cook points out that “we need the funds to do so.” He further stated, “when reductions in state aid are enacted, the students are the ones who suffer as districts are required to cut valuable programs and opportunities.”

NYVT Media will report on area school district budget deliberations as they take place in the coming weeks, with a more detailed breakdown of how these proposed changes will specifically impact these districts.