Young Wants Changes To School Aid Distribution

State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, wants to see changes to the way state education aid is distributed in the wake of a judge’s ruling against eight small city school districts, including the Jamestown Public Schools District.

In a news release Wednesday, Young said she was disappointed in a ruling released last week that the districts did not prove their case that the state’s funding formula is depriving their students of a sound, basic education. Judge Kimberly O’Connor wrote that the school districts did not dispute the state took steps to address the concerns raised in the first Campaign for Fiscal Equity case by changing the structure and methodology of education funding while also increasing the amount the state spends on its schools. Specifically referring to Jamestown, O’Connor wrote that the district did not make a strong case that a specific class size is needed to improve student achievement, particularly since class sizes in Jamestown were generally less than those noted by the court in the original Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. O’Connor said that while having fewer students in a class would mean a teacher can spend more time with students, there are too many variables to consider to make a concrete formula or number apply.

O’Connor also ruled that Jamestown officials’ contention that the qualification and experience of teachers within the district are inadequate and are contributing factors to poor student performance was incorrect. In most categories, the percentage of teachers meeting each requirement exceeded the state average, with the exception of teachers with a master’s degree or a doctorate. The judge also ruled that the issues with facilities and classrooms do not rise to the level of deficiency found in the original New York City-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, particularly since the district’s witnesses testified that there was additional funding available during the years covered during the lawsuit to address perceived deficiencies.

Young disagreed with those findings, asking elected officials to remedy the situation as state budget negotiations begin.

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“The Jamestown City School District, like the other plaintiffs, serves an extremely high-need, low-income student population,” Young said. “Student achievement in these districts is far below adequate which has negative implications for these young people, their families and their futures. This should be a major concern for the Governor and all legislators. These districts should continue their fight by appealing this decision and I hopeful that they will. In the meantime, I urge the Governor and the Legislature to address this damaging inequity through much-needed changes in the state aid formula as we move into the budget process. All of our children, no matter what part of the state they reside in, deserve the chance to learn, achieve and succeed.”

Both Young and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking during an appearance on The Roundtable with Alan Chartock on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, made reference to the state Board of Regents’ request for $2.1 billion in additional education aid. Cuomo’s 2019-20 proposed state budget includes $1 billion in additional state aid to schools.

“Everybody wants more money for everything,” Cuomo said in response to a question by Chartock. “The Board of Regents is in charge of education; they want more money for education. By the way, the healthcare industry called me this morning, they want more money for healthcare. By the way, the disabled community wants more money for the disabled community. The transportation wants more money for transportation. I understand it. I was housing advocate at, I was the HUD Secretary, I complained for eight years I didn’t get enough money. When you advocate for your agenda that’s what you should do. The job of government is then balancing those needs. Education, we spend more than any state in the United States, double the national average. “Well we want more.” I know, but it’s double the national average.”

The governor also reiterated the findings of data submitted by school districts to the state showing how much of each school district’s budget is being spent on each individual school within a district. Cuomo said the findings showed, for him, that districts should do a better job of redistributing funding each year to poorer schools within a district.

“That was the great revelation,” Cuomo said. “All these years, all these progressive advocates, CFE lawsuit, Eliot Spitzer’s promises. Give more money to the poorer districts and we’ll help poorer students. Okay–70 percent of the money goes to poorer districts and what we now learned and a staggering revelation–the districts didn’t give it to the poorer schools. It was all, in many ways, a scam. You give the money to the poorer district, but they didn’t distribute it to the poorer schools …. In this law, say, I’m not just giving it to you, school district, to give it to the wealthier schools in your district.

“I want it to go to the poorer schools, because that is the truth. The child that’s going home to public housing, whose parents are working, who comes from a one parent family, who doesn’t have the tutor, who doesn’t have all the resources, that’s the child that needs the help. And we have not achieved that. There’s been a lot of speeches, a lot of groups, a lot of lobbying, but now we find out that it was only half a step because giving it to the poorer districts did not mean you were giving it to the poorer school.”

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