Public schools across New York state received record funding this year in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget, including the balance of promised foundation aid, the largest bulk of money schools receive from the state.

The foundation aid formula was originally created in 2007 – stemming from a court ruling which demanded the state provide every student with a “sound and basic education.”

As a result, schools were ordered to receive billions in aid based on student and school district need. The money was distributed via the foundation aid formula but because of the Great Recession, the formula was never fully implemented.

A few years ago, a new phase-in plan was put into place, and this budget cycle is the third and final phase of the plan.

While according to Brian Fessler, the director of government relations at the New York State School Boards Association, school boards are both “excited and pleased” by the governor’s commitment, there is now a question about what happens to foundation aid next year.

“I feel sometimes like the cliché about the dog chasing the mail truck. They catch the mail truck and don’t know exactly what to do,” Fessler explained.

According to Fessler, the New York State School Boards Association is looking at this year as a moment to reflect on how the formula has worked, and how it could be improved, reformed and updated.

“We want that process to begin now so it can be thoughtful and deliberative, rather than only being subject to next year’s budget negotiations,” he said.

Because much of the data that informs the current foundation aid formula comes from the 2000 Census, the school boards association is eager to see funding in this year’s enacted budget for the New York State Department of Education to work on a collaborative update.

“We think it makes sense for the state Ed Department to kind of coordinate and organize that process. We want a lot of voices to be included, our voices at the school boards association, education finance experts, legislators, the governor’s office, the division of budget and other stakeholders,” Fessler said.

Setting aside the “low hanging fruit” of updating Census information, Fessler argues that there’s been a change in the educational environment from 16 years ago, including different priorities, and a new property tax cap.

There is no money in the executive budget to update the foundation aid formula, but state Education officials mentioned it during budget hearings.

Another priority for school boards is free universal school meals, which had been paid for by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Frankly, I have been somewhat surprised amongst our membership by how much the tide has turned in terms of support for this issue,” Fessler said.

There are various proposals for free universal school meals. Fessler said that NYSSBA supports Senator Michelle Hinchey’s bill from a programmatic standpoint.

“We’re very supportive of that, but ultimately it comes down to funding… some estimates are (that the cost would be) about $200 million dollars,” he said.