State Budget/Legislative Issues

2020-2021 State Aid Recommendations

1. A minimum increase of $1.2 billion in funding over the Executive Budget is needed.
The Conference of Big 5 School Districts and the other members of the Educational Conference Board have put forth a proposal calling for a year-to-year school aid increase of $2.1 billion.

These additional resources are critical as all of the Big 5 member school districts are heavily reliant on State funds. The large city school districts have no ability to raise local revenue given their fiscal dependency and Albany, Mount Vernon and Utica are limited by the tax cap imposed upon independent school districts.

2. The Foundation Aid phase-in must be accelerated and flexibility maintained.
The State must provide school districts with an expedited Foundation Aid phase-in and commit to a funding formula that is transparent and affords school districts predictability. Students in the Big 5 member school districts should not have to wait for equitable educational opportunities.

School districts should also be granted maximum flexibility for community schools set-aside amounts under Foundation Aid.

3. The Executive Budget’s proposed merger of ten expense-based aids must be rejected.
The Executive Budget’s proposed merger of ten expense-based aids including Special Services, BOCES and Charter School Transitional Aids into Foundation Aid could be detrimental to school district budgeting.  These categories of aid should remain linked to actual expenditures to ensure school districts are not forced to divert resources from the classroom in order to cover increased expenses in these areas.

4. Transportation Aid and Building Aid must be protected.
The Executive Budget’s proposal to cap Transportation Aid to inflation plus growth would have damaging consequences for school districts entering into new contracts or facing increased expenses.  Furthermore, the proposed Building Aid modifications could delay advancement of critical projects in some of the State’s neediest schools.

5. Charter school expansion must be limited and the funding system altered.
Charter school expansion in saturated school districts must be limited and enhanced accountability measures applied to charter schools to ensure that there is greater budget transparency and oversight is provided upon dissolution.

In addition, supplemental charter school tuition payments must be increased to protect school districts from scheduled tuition increases and accelerated in order to enable school districts to receive current year reimbursement. Lastly, Charter School Transitional Aid must be expanded to capture conversion and district-sponsored charter schools and extended beyond three years for all schools.

6. Additional funding is necessary for English Language Learners (ELLs).
The State must provide more support for ELL students through a designated categorical program and an expansion of the weighting for ELL pupils under Foundation Aid. 

The Conference’s eight school districts educate 45% of New York State’s K-12 public school students including 68% of the ELL student population.  Furthermore, the majority of pupils who are newly arrived to the United States, including many refugee students, are educated in member school districts.

7. Special Services Aid and Career and Technical Education funds must be expanded.
The $3,900 per pupil formula-based funding cap under Special Services Aid must be increased and reimbursement should be adjusted to capture 9th grade students.  In addition, more resources should be provided to enable Mount Vernon and Utica to expand in-district Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The New York State Board of Regents adopted Multiple Pathways to High School Graduation with the goal of expanding the delivery of CTE and improving graduation rates. The Big 5 member school districts are interested in building upon some of their extraordinarily successful CTE programs.

8. Prekindergarten funding must be increased.
69% of the State’s Prekindergartners are educated in the Big 5 school districts.  The Conference’s school districts operate some of the State’s longest running and most successful Prekindergarten programs.  However, funding levels have not been adjusted to capture the actual costs of these vital programs.  The State must commit to fully funding full-day Prekindergarten programs for the State’s high need urban school districts.

9. School Health Services funding must be restored, expanded and increased.
The Executive Budget cuts school health funding by $1.2 million for the Buffalo and Rochester school districts. These cuts must be restored and increases provided for all school districts receiving School Health Services funds (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers). In addition, funding must be expanded to include New York City, Albany, Mount Vernon and Utica. School Health Services funding has not kept pace with student health and medical needs and the growing programmatic requirements imposed on school health personnel.

The Conference supports the Executive Budget’s maintenance of funding for Mental Health Support Grants and calls for expansion of these programs in future years.

10. Additional targeted funding is needed for ongoing professional development.
Additional resources are necessary for teacher and principal training and professional development initiatives for the Big 5 non-component school districts.

There is currently no targeted funding for these vital programs, which are essential to improving instructional quality and student outcomes.

2020 District Overview and Data

The Conference of Big 5 School Districts represents the city school districts of Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany, Mount Vernon, and Utica.

  • Our urban school districts en roll 45% of New York State’s public school students.
  • 66% of the State’s English Language Learner pupils are educated in our member districts.
  • 53% of the State’s special education students (ages 5-21) are educated in our city school districts.
  • 69% of New York State’s prekindergarteners are educated in our school districts.
  • The percentages of our pupils with extraordinary needs are: Buffalo 87%; NYC 75%; Rochester 92%; Syracuse 86%; Yonkers 70%; Albany 68%; Mount Vernon 71%; and Utica 87%.
  • The Conference’s school districts have high rates of student mobility, homelessness and students living in temporary shelters.
  • School buildings in our city school districts are older than others in the State and average over 70 years old.

Download the 2020 Overview and Data here.

State Budget Testimony

joyce at whiteboard Budget Testimony Before New York State Legislative Fiscal and Education Committees – February 11, 2020

Presented By:
Jennifer K. Pyle, Executive Director
Conference of Big 5 School Districts

Good afternoon.  My name is Jennifer Pyle.  I serve as Executive Director of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts.  Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to testify before you today and for your steadfast commitment to serving the needs of urban education in New York State.  I am joined by Mr. Jaime Alicea, Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District; Dr. Kriner Cash, Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools; Mr. Terry Dade, Superintendent of the Rochester City School District; Dr. Edwin Quezada, Superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools; and Ms. Kaweeda Adams, Superintendent of the City School District of Albany.  I have submitted written testimony and will not speak today in order to afford my panel time to address you.

Foundation Aid

The 2020-2021 Executive Budget provides a year-to-year school aid increase of $826 million.  This includes a proposed $504 million increase in Foundation Aid of which $50 million is a set-aside increase for community schools. 

We appreciate the Governor’s ongoing commitment to increased funding for education.  However, the proposal falls short of providing adequate resources for urban school districts faced with immense fiscal stress and struggling to meet the mounting needs of the pupils they serve. 

The Conference of Big 5 School Districts and the other members of the Educational Conference Board (ECB) have advanced a proposal calling for a school aid increase of $2.1 billion including a $1.5 billion increase in Foundation Aid.  The ECB recommendations include a three-year phase-in for full funding of Foundation Aid, updating the formula to more accurately account for student needs and restructuring the regional cost index. 

Revision and full funding of the Foundation Aid formula is imperative for all of the Big 5 school districts as they are heavily reliant on State funds.  Furthermore, the large city school districts have no ability to raise local revenue given their fiscal dependency and Albany, Mount Vernon and Utica are limited by the tax cap imposed upon independent school districts.  There is no expectation that any of their respective struggling cities will have the capacity to increase the local share for education. 

In addition, flexibility must be continued for the additional Community Schools set-aside under Foundation Aid in order to meet local needs.

Expense-Based Aids

The Executive Budget’s proposal to cap growth in expense-based aids by merging 10 expense-based aid categories into Foundation Aid is especially troubling.  Furthermore, the proposed cap on Transportation Aid and changes to the Building Aid formula would be damaging to school districts preparing to enter into new transportation contracts and critical school construction initiatives. 

School districts could be forced to divert scarce resources from the classroom in order to cover increases in areas such as transportation and charter school tuition.  We call upon you to reject these proposals.

Charter Schools

While we support school choice and affording parents the option to send their children to charter schools, we have serious concerns with regard to the current charter school funding system.  The statutory increase in charter school tuition rates for 2020-2021 will place an additional undue burden on school districts.  Supplemental charter school tuition payments must be increased to protect school districts from scheduled tuition increases and accelerated in order to enable school districts to receive current year reimbursement.

In addition, charter school expansion in saturated school districts should be limited and enhanced accountability measures must be applied to charter schools to ensure that enrollment accurately reflects district pupil demographics. 

Furthermore, Transitional Aid must be expanded to capture conversion and district-sponsored charter schools and extended beyond three years for all schools.

English Language Learners 

Our eight member school districts have experienced enrollment growth in recent years that can be attributed to pupils who are newly arrived to the United States, including large numbers of refugee students who speak little or no English and are in need of expanded services.  In fact, almost 68% of all English Language Learners are educated in the Big 5.  More funding is needed to support additional bilingual teachers, translators and support services.

We are pleased with the Governor’s continued inclusion of resources for refugee and immigrant student welcome grants.

Career and Technical Education

We support the Board of Regents commitment to multiple pathways and enhanced opportunities for all students through the expansion of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.  Our school districts currently operate some of the most innovative and successful CTE programs in the State and we are continuing to grow these programs.  We urge you to invest in Career and Technical Education programs by increasing the Special Services Aid per pupil formula-based funding cap and to align this funding with our Career and Technical Education programs by expanding it to students beginning in grade 9.

Prekindergarten

The Big 5 school districts appreciate the Governor’s ongoing commitment to funding and expansion of prekindergarten programs in New York State.  Our school districts operate some of the State’s longest running and most successful prekindergarten programs.  However, funding levels in many cases have not been adjusted to reflect the actual costs of these vital programs. 

The State must commit to fully funding prekindergarten programs for high need urban school districts.

Health and Mental Health Services

Many of our pupils have limited access to health and mental health services outside of the regular school day.  Each of our school districts provides valuable health services to their students as required under Education Law.  Unfortunately, funding for these services has been frozen for many years and Buffalo and Rochester will experience a reduction in School Health Services Aid under the Governor’s plan.  We urge you to restore this cut and provide additional targeted school health funding for all member districts to assist them with increased demands for school health services.

We support the Governor’s continued inclusion of funding for Mental Health Support Grants and are hopeful that these important programs can be expanded in future years

Professional Development

Additional resources must be provided to support vital professional development initiatives for teachers and principals.  The Big 5 school districts currently receive no targeted State funding for these programs, which are essential to improving instructional quality and student outcomes. 

We are pleased to see the continuation of funding for the Smart Start program intended to support professional development and expand high quality computer science and engineering education.

Special Education

Over 53% of the State’s special education students (ages 5-21) are educated in the Big 5 and the percentages of pupils with extraordinary needs in the Big 5 are staggering.  We support the Governor’s proposal to provide relief to school districts from unnecessary special education mandates through a new waiver system.

Download file here:
2020 State Budget Testimony

Educational Conference Board (ECB)

Press Release - Educational Conference Board calls for a $2.1 billion state aid increase for 2020-21 and Foundation Aid to be funded and updated

Picture1For immediate release – November 21, 2109
Contact: ECB Chair John Yagielski, (518) 810-8382, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Organizations outline funding needed to continue current educational services

Based on estimates for educational expenses in the coming year and growing student needs, New York’s major statewide education organizations released a report today detailing the need for a $2.1 billion state aid increase for 2020-21. To read the full report.

The funding increase recommended by the New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB) contains two primary components:

  • $1.6 billion to continue current educational services based on available cost estimates for school expenses in the year ahead; and
  • $500 million for targeted investments in five critical areas: strengthening school safety and mental health services, supporting receivership schools, addressing the cost of providing specialized services such as special education and English as a New Language, college and career pathways, and professional development.

“Schools are focused on meeting the needs of all children while advancing programs and learning opportunities that will prepare them for a changing world,” said ECB Chair John Yagielski. “The state is a critical partner. Based on the latest data, cost estimates and the collective experience of our organizations, this paper identifies the investments it will take and changes required to enable schools to fulfill the vital mission of education.”

The $1.6 billion increase to continue current services is based on cost estimates for 2020-21 in areas such as salaries, pension costs, and health insurance costs from sources such as the State Division of Budget and Teachers’ Retirement System. This figure represents the state funding required to maintain student programs and services after accounting for local revenue that might be raised given the tax cap.

Based on the CPI data for this year so far, ECB is projecting a tax levy growth factor of 1.74 percent in the tax cap formula – meaning schools could again face a limit that is more restrictive than the 2 percent widely associated with the law. The paper includes recommendations to make the tax cap simpler and more predictable for school districts.

Assumed in the $1.6 billion increase is full funding for expense-based reimbursements such as transportation, building and BOCES aids, estimated at $85 million. ECB recommends that the remaining $1.5 billion be put toward Foundation Aid, with no set-asides. As all schools face growing costs, ECB recommends that each district receive a minimum Foundation Aid increase that at least matches the inflation rate.

The ECB paper points out that between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the total number of New York students receiving free or reduced price lunch increased by 15 percent and the number of English language learners and students with disabilities each increased by approximately 18 percent. Meanwhile, the state is $3.4 billion behind what is due to schools in the current year, 2019-20, under the Foundation Aid formula – which was intended to account directly for student needs.

The organizations note that the Foundation Aid increase recommended for 2020-21 would put the state on a trajectory to fully fund the formula in three years. They emphasize the importance of establishing a set timeline for this full phase-in.

The paper includes three longer-term Foundation Aid recommendations designed to update the formula based on current financial and student learning factors: conduct a new cost study to determine the foundation amount per pupil; review and adjust how student needs are accounted for in the formula; and restructure the regional cost index.

ECB notes that schools have made investments in recent years to address the growth in student needs, but cost pressures have made it difficult to both respond to emerging needs and expand learning opportunities for all.

“As schools seek to offer the range of academic programs needed to prepare today’s students for success in tomorrow’s economy, the fact is that it will take more of an investment to get it right,” the paper states.

The New York State Educational Conference Board is comprised of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; the New York State Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; New York State School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers; and the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Download a pdf here

Foundation Aid Testimony

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CONFERENCE OF BIG 5 SCHOOL DISTRICTS
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