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In State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo proposes $1 billion boost for New York schools and new funding formula

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Tuesday in his State of the State address for boosting school funding by $1 billion and establishing a new formula that would require districts to send certain dollars to specific needy schools.

Although Cuomo spent most of the education portion of the speech saying districts were not properly distributing state dollars to the most needy schools, he called for increasing funding by $230 million more than he did last year, for a total $27.7 billion. The move could be a nod toward the new legislature’s apparent commitment to increasing funding for school districts across the state, an issue many new lawmakers campaigned on. State Budget Director Robert F. Mujica Jr. said Cuomo’s administration acknowledges rising costs for school districts and wants to accounts for inflation. 

Though larger than his fiscal 2019 proposal, the governor’s plan is still $1.1 billion short of what state education policymakers have requested and suggests a substantially smaller boost in foundation aid, a formula that sends extra dollars to high-needs districts. The formula and whether it’s being sufficiently funded have been the subject of heated contention among education advocates, the governor’s office, and state policymakers for years, a debate that shows no signs of abating.

In response to the governor’s speech, the state’s top education officials said they are “extremely alarmed” with Cuomo’s recommended funding levels. The proposal “falls far short of what schools need to achieve equity, or even keep pace with inflation and demographic changes,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor Betty Rosa said in an emailed statement.

The proposal increases foundation aid by $338 million, the same amount as last year (when the state was facing a larger state budget deficit). State policymakers have called for almost five times that amount (with a $4.9 billion phase-in over three years).

Cuomo, who earlier this month described calls to substantially increase foundation aid a “ghost of the past,” has steadfastly held that the formula was satisfied long ago and is no longer valid. An entire section of his budget book, released in conjunction with today’s address, is dedicated toward refuting the formula. On Tuesday, Cuomo highlighted a school funding transparency law passed last year, which requires districts to show how state dollars are distributed.

“The districts turned around and decided how to distribute the funds, and they did not distribute the funds to the poorer schools,” Cuomo said. “That assumption was flawed.”

His proposed formula would require districts to send a “significant portion” of their foundation aid increase toward their most underfunded, neediest schools, according to Cuomo’s written budget proposal. The formula would be based on a plan approved by state education officials.   

In New York City, a Chalkbeat analysis found there are funding disparities, which can amount to thousands of dollars per pupil, between schools, largely because of the Fair Student Funding Formula. It sends more dollars to schools with hard-to-serve students, like those with disabilities or those from low-income families. But many public education advocates say the additional dollars are still insufficient to address the need and don’t address the discrepancies in funding that can result from outside fundraising by affluent parents.

Several New York City Democratic lawmakers joined the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy group, to decry Cuomo’s education proposal. 

“It’s great to finally hear about equitable funding of public education from Governor Cuomo, but his paltry $338 million in Foundation Aid is an insult to our children,” said Sen. Robert Jackson, one of the plaintiffs in the 1993 lawsuit that helped create foundation aid. “Whatever plan he may craft to address funding disparities within districts does not address the now $4.1 billion that has been owed to struggling schools statewide for decades as a result of the state’s failure to uphold its legal obligation.”

Under Cuomo’s plans, charter schools would get $37 million in funding, which boosts per-pupil funding for the sector by 3.5 percent, about the same per-pupil boost as public schools.

Cuomo’s budget address comes at a turning point in the state legislature, as Democrats take control of the Senate, paving the way for a clear shift in education policy.

The executive budget calls for extending mayoral control of city schools by three years, decoupling state assessments from teacher evaluations and passing the New York DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to apply for in-state tuition assistance and college savings plans. Democratic lawmakers intend to pass both bills quickly.