Improving access to student mental health services, boosting school funding, and creating high-dosage tutoring programs figure prominently in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s education agenda, according to her annual State of the State address on Tuesday.
Hochul’s speech — which governors use to signal their priorities for the coming year — outlined issues she’s shown interest in before, such as improving college access.
Her proposals, which come two months after significant drops on national reading and math exams, also show a deeper commitment to addressing how the pandemic impacted students both academically and mentally.
Here are highlights from Hochul’s education policy proposals:
Hochul keeps pledge to fully fund Foundation Aid
As part of her budget proposal, Hochul confirmed that she will include a $2.7 billion increase in school funding for districts across New York under the Foundation Aid formula, which sends more money to high-needs districts.
Last year, state lawmakers had promised to spend billions of more dollars over three years to fully fund the long-debated formula, which accounts for most of the dollars that schools receive from the state.
This upcoming budget will represent the final phase-in of that money, and Hochul’s commitment to spend an additional $2.7 billion matches the funding request from the state’s Board of Regents, as well as a coalition of education-focused organizations called the Educational Conference Board.
High inflation rates ballooned the cost for this year from a $1.9 billion increase to $2.7 billion — raising concerns among some advocates about whether Hochul would stick to her word as the country is at risk for a recession.
“This historic level of financial support for New York public schools will reverberate for generations to come, broadening access to opportunity and enabling New York to build the education system of the future,” said Hochul’s book of policy proposals.
Several education organizations applauded Hochul’s plan. In a statement, Alliance for Quality Education, a school funding advocacy group, called it a “historic milestone for New York State’s public schools.”
Plans to make student mental health needs more accessible
As part of a broader effort to address mental health needs, Hochul has proposed to make school-based services more accessible to students and less expensive to open and run such programs in the first place.
Student mental health needs have been a large focus for educators and advocates since the onset of the pandemic. While many New York City schools offer some level of help to those with behavioral or mental health needs, educators and families report that the needs outpace what’s available, and many students are unable to access those resources.
More than one-third of New York City public schools have none of the six mental health programs that the education department touts on its website, according to an audit conducted last year by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Hochul wants to increase the rate at which school-based clinics and other wraparound services are reimbursed by Medicaid, hoping that this will encourage providers to open more such clinics. She would also create annual grants that would help cover the costs of creating school-based services. Her proposal did not include more specific details, including how much money would be available for the grants.
Hochul also wants to introduce legislation that would require private insurance to pay the Medicaid rate for school-based services that students receive, since those insurance companies typically pay below the Medicaid rate, according to a spokesperson for the governor.
Charles Dedrick, executive director of the state Council of School Superintendents, applauded the proposal and described it as a “comprehensive plan” to expand and provide coverage for these services.
Hochul wants to invest in high-dosage tutoring
In order to address the academic effects of the pandemic, Hochul plans to invest $250 million of Foundation Aid money for districts to create high-impact tutoring programs, where students are tutored multiple times a week.
Mirroring national trends, New York saw steep drops in fourth grade math and reading scores, as well as eighth grade math, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, given for the first time last year since 2019.
Districts would use the money to establish the programs on their own or in partnership with an outside provider. These programs would specifically tutor students in grades 3-8 on reading and math.
Officials did not immediately respond to say how the money would be distributed or how much New York City would receive.
Researchers have found that students can do better in school when they’re tutored frequently in small groups. The endeavor is expensive, but an investment from the state could inject a boost to create such programs in New York City and elsewhere. Hochul’s policy book says that such programs “deliver increased instructional time and customized student learning, and establish meaningful relationships between tutors and students.”
One possible model in New York City is a CUNY-run tutoring program, where 800 of the school’s students studying to become teachers are working with struggling readers in first and second grade.
Creating a pipeline to higher education and the workforce
Hochul pitched a slew of proposals aimed to get more students into college and the workforce.
Under her plan, New York’s graduating high school seniors would receive admission to their local SUNY community college. Additionally, students who aren’t admitted to their SUNY school of choice would automatically be considered for admission at another SUNY campus.
She’s proposing to spend $20 million in grants for districts to create college-level courses in high school, through which students can earn college credit. The money would also go toward technology-focused programs – both in school districts and colleges – with the goal of preparing more students for such careers after graduation.
Priority for the grant money will be given to programs in high-needs school districts, as well as districts that plan to create programs focused on computer science and computer and software engineering pathways “with an eye toward the technology jobs of the present and future,” according to the proposal book.
Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at firstname.lastname@example.org.