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Commission: Schools Have The Funding For Education

While most advocates are asking state legislators to give schools more money, one group is saying schools actually have the funding needed to provide a sound, basic education.

Tucked amongst hundreds of pages of submitted testimony in the recent Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Education was a four-page memorandum from the Citizens Budget Commission, a New York City-based nonprofit organization that seeks to achieve constructive change in the finances and services of New York City and New York state. The commission’s testimony is based on an analysis of the 2018 state aid totals and information for the 2017-18 school year published by the state Education Department. It determined the cost of a sound basic education by adding Foundation Aid totals multiplied by the number of total number of students eligible for Foundation Aid as well as other necessary costs excluded from the Foundation Aid calculation, a number the commission derives from the “successful school methodology” and the annual ST-3 form all schools file with the state Education Department.

Its testimony states Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal actually provides $750 million more than is needed to provide a sound, basic education statewide as required by the state constitution. Contrary to much of the testimony and comments from legislators during the hearing, commission officials also support Cuomo’s decision to fold 10 types of state aid into the Foundation Aid formula, though commission members say Cuomo’s action is structured poorly. The commission also advocates for changes to the Foundation Aid formula.

“The Executive Budget increases aid more than is needed to fund an SBE at a time when the state is proposing to close significant gaps with major year-to-year cuts in Medicaid, and does not tackle the most important shortcomings of current school aid formulas,” the commission’s testimony states. “By lumping less progressive forms of school aid into the Foundation Aid distribution without revising the underlying formulas, future Foundation Aid distributions will drift farther from the formula’s original intent. Instead, the State should fold those aids into the Foundation Aid formula and distribute them based on need. To better distribute all Foundation Aid based on need, the formula should be fixed to more accurately reflect student need and local revenue efforts, relax hold-harmless provisions, and eliminate automatic minimum increases. Lastly, the state should move forward with controlling building and transportation aid costs while ensuring that schools have what they need to provide a sound basic education.”

While commission members believe the state is providing more than enough money to provide a sound, basic education in New York state, the commission’s testimony made clear that its members believe not every school district in the state is receiving enough state aid. Schools spent more than $72 billion in local, state and federal funds in 2018, which the commission estimates is $13.6 billion more than is needed to pay for a sound, basic education as defined by the state’s Foundation Aid formula.

Cuomo’s budget proposal, according to the CBC, increases education aid by $826 million, $751 million more than the $75 million CBC analysts say is needed to meet the state’s constitutional requirements.

“However, the Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget school aid proposal fails to provide all districts with enough funds to provide a sound basic education (SBE), despite increasing aid 11 times more than is needed to ensure all districts have sufficient funds,” the Citizens Budget Commission testimony states. “The increase is not sufficiently targeted to those that are underfunded.”

Citizens Budget Commission analysts identified 25 school districts statewide that lack the resources necessary to pay for a sound, basic education, 21 of which are high-needs districts. The total amount of money needed to bring those 25 schools to the funding level needed was $75 million in 2018. CBC officials say Cuomo’s budget proposal raises state aid while still leaving 13 school districts without the resources they need to provide a sound, basic education, with those schools still about $30 million shy of the resources they need. Ellicottville is the closest of those districts to Chautauqua County, with CBC officials saying the school is about $330,000 short of the funding it needs.

“The additional $750 million increase goes to districts that do not need it to fund (a sound, basic education,” CBC officials wrote in their testimony. “These include 129 districts that raised enough revenues solely from local resources to fund (a sound, basic education), but still received $1.6 billion in state aid in school year 2018.”

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