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Officials Oppose Change To School Aid

It appears members of the state Legislature and the state Education Department oppose the way Gov. Andrew Cuomo has changed state aid to schools in his executive budget proposal.

Cuomo’s 2020-21 executive budget proposal lauded support for poor schools with a 3% increase in education funding, though local school superintendents say perceived increases in Foundation Aid are actually attributed to the combination of BOCES aid, hardware and technology, software, library and textbooks into Foundation Aid.

The executive proposes to consolidate 10 separate expense-based and categorical aids into a new Foundation Aid base amount for 2020-21. The 10 aids include BOCES Aid, Special Services Aid, Charter School Transitional Aid, High Tax Aid, Supplemental Public Excess Cost Aid, Academic Enhancement Aid and the four Instructional Materials Aids (library, textbook, software and computer hardware). The aids would run as designed in 2020-21 — generating an increase of $10 million statewide — but would be paid as Foundation Aid. The ten aid categories would then effectively be eliminated after 2020-21.

Earlier this week, members state Senate and Assembly held a joint legislative budget hearing for education. Many members questioned Shannon Tahoe, interim state education commissioner, about the differences between the state Board of Regents’ request for $1.9 billion in additional state aid for schools and Cuomo’s increase of $504 million. Legislators were also concerned with the combination of expense-based state aid into the Foundation Aid formula.

“We are very concerned with the executive proposal,” Tahoe said in response to a question by Sen. Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers. “One of the things we’re concerned with is the recategorization of the expense-based aid into the Foundation Aid formula, particularly when we’re inserting things like BOCES aid and special services aid. We’re worried about our CTE programming and the effect that is going to have on our CTE programs across the state, for example. When you start to reduce the amount of reimburseable aids, if those costs go up they won’t be reimbursed for those, they will essentially be held flat as part of their Foundation Aid formula. We’re also concerned obviously with the $504 million as opposed to our $1.9 billion proposal. That’s a great disparity as well. We’re also concerned with the reductions in building aid and transportation aid. This is going to greatly impact our school districts.”

Testimony received by the committee by several education groups also expressed concerns. The New York State School Boards Association is concerned that the consolidation of aid categories is supposed to free up money for additional foundation aid but has no mechanism to achieve that goal. In fact, NYSSBA officials said districts could see less money depending on what they spend in 2020-21.

“Without that assurance, it is possible that this proposal could lead to a comparative reduction in school aid for many districts in any given year. In particular, this could negatively impact districts that share services through BOCES and those who see significant growth in charter school costs/enrollment,” NYSSBA officials wrote in submitted testimony. “In addition, creating a new ·base· level of foundation aid using 2020-21 aid will benefit some districts and effectively penalize others in a haphazard fashion. If a district spent less on BOCES services, for example, in the current year, generating less BOCES aid in 2020-21, that lower amount becomes part of the new base foundation aid amount.”

The state Council of School Superintendents took aim at consolidation of BOCES aid into Foundation Aid, particularly for small school districts that use BOCES to offer services smaller districts can’t offer on their own. Projected statewide increases in BOCES aid is 1.1%, but high-need rural districts, like many in Chautauqua County, were anticipating a 3.2% increase in BOCES aid while high need small city and suburban school districts were anticipating 2.9% in additional BOCES aid.

“A rural superintendent wrote to us, ‘What will happen to BOCES? What will happen in future years when we need to increase spending to send additional students to career and technical programs, but the Foundation Aid increase doesn’t even come close to that increase?'” the council wrote in submitted testimony. “Employers look to BOCES to provide the trained workforce their jobs require. A small city superintendent warned, ‘In the long run I think BOCES would atrophy and make it less and less likely for districts to use BOCES (services).'”

Mayer asked Tahoe and the state Education Department staff to quantify the consolidation of aid categories into Foundation Aid will mean for local school districts, local BOCES and career and technical education programs. Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, also asked about the consolidation in aid categories and what it will mean for school districts.

“We absolutely do believe this is going to create reductions in possibly CTE programs throughout the state because CTE is reimbursed through our Special Services Aid aid and our BOCES aid,” Tahoe said. “So they won’t be reimbursed for their actual expenses for those costs and it will be held flat as part of Foundation Aid, which can be used for multiple purposes and not necessarily CTE. That was targeted funding separate and apart from Foundation Aid, and now all that’s happening is it’s being put into the Foundation Aid formula without actually increasing the amount of the Foundation Aid formula. It’s just dumping those expense-based aids into it.”

Walsh then drilled down even further on the question, asking Tahoe how the state can ensure the salaries for BOCES employees remain stable if there is not a defined BOCES funding level each year. Tahoe’s response was simply, “You’re exactly right. We can’t.”

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