Education advocates are a pretty staid bunch, not apt to throw a party or spike a football, but some say they are quite pleased with the enacted education budget.
“The biggest thing is that the legislature obtained a transformational change by fully funding Foundation Aid.” state Senator Shelley Mayer told Capital Tonight. “Many of our members ran on this issue as the top issue in their district.”
Not only will the state be fulfilling a long-hoped-for commitment to Foundation Aid, but funds from the last two stimulus packages will be supplementing, rather than supplanting, state aid to schools.
“We’re in vastly better shape than any of us would have dared to have hoped last summer or fall,” according to Bob Lowry, of the New York State Council for School Superintendents.
The legislature was determined to fully phase in the remaining Foundation Aid owed to schools, which added up to a little over $4 billion. Foundation aid is the key pipeline through which unrestricted aid is distributed to school districts. The enacted budget stipulates that $1.4 billion per year for three years will be sent to districts.
“The presumption is, at the end of three years, we will spend more than $4 billion on Foundation Aid than we do today,” Lowry explained.
The funding will be enormously helpful for some specific school districts, like Utica, which is considered a small city school district. Utica will see a 10.7 percent increase in Foundation Aid, totaling $11.28 million. And, Lowry explains, that’s on top of $26 million from the December stimulus fund and $58 million from the March American Rescue plan.
“This creates a lot of exciting opportunities for students in places like Utica and Rochester,” Brian Fessler of the New York State School Boards Association, told Capital Tonight.
“For a school district like Rochester, it will mean a $40 million increase in Foundation Aid alone, and in totality, one time funding of almost $300 million in stimulus funds,” he said.
Additionally, the final budget agreement puts the kibosh on just about every concern that education advocates had expressed about the governor’s executive budget in January.
For example, the governor had proposed squeezing several aid categories into a single funding stream that cut $700 million in state aid to schools. That will not take place. Neither will any cuts to the STAR reimbursement that the state provides to school districts.
According to Lowry, while the budget is “vastly better than we dared hope”, there is a still a concern regarding the ability of the state to continue this level of funding for districts considering that the tax increases paying for the funding are only temporary.
“The general concern still is longer term,” he said. “Will the state’s revenues hold up and be able to support these commitments.”