New York’s Leading Education Groups Outline Need for $1.9 Billion State Aid Increase in 2015-16

The NYS Educational Conference Board says that with an improved fiscal condition, New York state can help schools ‘turn the corner’ after tough years.

New York’s major statewide education organizations issued a report today outlining the need for a $1.9 billion state aid increase for schools in the upcoming state budget to continue current services and make progress on a number of critical new initiatives.

The organizations comprise the New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB), and together represent parents, classroom teachers, school-related professionals, school business officials, school building and program administrators, superintendents and school boards.

The ECB report is titled “Turning the Corner: With an improved fiscal condition, New York can lead the way for sustainable educational progress.” (PDF) It cites the state’s improved fiscal outlook, aided by recent financial settlements, in advocating for investments in education.

The report comes after a period of years in which state aid has been reduced, flat, or otherwise inadequate to help schools continue essential services while also adapting to state-mandated education reforms. A little more than $1 billion in state funding remains withheld from schools through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), and phase-in of the state’s Foundation Aid formula has been stalled since 2008-09.

The ECB report includes three recommendations:

  • First, the state aid increase in the 2015 state budget should fund the continuation of current school programs and services, recognizing limitations on the ability to fund those costs created by the tax cap.
  • Second, the state should accelerate a plan to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment and return to a functioning Foundation Aid formula.
  • Third, an overall state aid increase of $1.9 billion would help school districts make meaningful progress on new initiatives – including teaching training and curriculum development to meet world-class standards; expanding access to Career and Technical Education programs; and allowing districts to continue to develop and grow prekindergarten programs.

“We believe that this year can be a turning point after a series of tough years for schools,” ECB Chair John Yagielski said. “The state’s fiscal health puts it into a position to help schools make up some of the ground lost to the cuts of recent years. This thoughtful proposal is designed to help school districts move forward by funding the services that families and communities count on every day, investing in new initiatives, and recommitting to a functioning state aid plan.”

“We can’t yield any more ground,” Yagielski added. “Every child in New York State is counting on us.”

The report recounts the toll that the cuts of recent budget cycles have taken on New York’s schools. For example:

  • The education workforce has shrunk by more than 30,000 in the last six years.
  • More than half – 51 percent – of the state’s schools are receiving less state aid in the current year than they did in 2008-09.
  • The amount of aid being diverted from schools through the Gap Elimination Adjustment is $1.036 billion in the current year.
  • Foundation Aid to schools is $4.7 billion below the full phase-in of the formula that was first introduced in 2007.

Despite diminished resources, schools have worked hard to adapt to series of state education reforms, including increased academic standards. They are also addressing a variety of challenges without sufficient support from the state or federal government, including providing services and educational programming for the recent influx of unaccompanied minors, many of whom have intense needs.

In the paper, ECB members look to the future and reaffirm their support for a school aid formula that is based on adequacy, equity, predictability, flexibility, and transparency. For most of the last two decades, New York has not had a state aid formula that operated as intended, without either artificial limits on increases, or freezes or reductions in aid. School districts deserve an unencumbered aid formula that operates as intended each year.

“Enacting the recommendations in this report – providing adequate and equitable aid and committing to a long-term funding system that provides schools needed stability and predictability – is the path to real and lasting progress,” the report concludes. “This is imperative for our children today, and will have a tremendous impact on their ability to successfully respond to the challenges they will face tomorrow.”

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

Leaders of ECB member organizations comment on today’s report

“The Conference of Big 5 School Districts represents the high need urban poor. These localities are fiscally constrained and the success of their schools is dependent upon New York State providing adequate resources to enable them to deliver high quality programs and services.  State support is critical if we are to afford all students an opportunity to succeed in meeting the higher standards,” said Conference of Big 5 School Districts Executive Director Georgia M. Asciutto.

“School officials have demonstrated they are good stewards of public resources during the economic downturn. They have responsibly slowed the growth in school spending and found creative ways to allocate resources for improved student achievement.  Now it is time for the State to do its part,” said New York State Association of School Business Officials Executive Director Michael J. Borges.

“With the state’s finances gaining strength, it is no longer possible to justify the continued existence of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or the lack of an adequate, working Foundation Aid formula. So many educators say they fear their schools will never again be able to offer the opportunities students in the past had.  It’s time for state education funding to guarantee all our public schools can offer their students the opportunities any of us would want for our own children,” said New York State Council of School Superintendents Executive Director Robert J. Reidy.

“With multiple years of forced reductions in school spending that ignore heightened expectations and shifting demographics, parents conclude that the status quo is simply not enough. If our goal is to see our children successfully competing in a global economy, it is essential that we work together to assure the necessary investment for every child to achieve that goal,” said New York State Parent Teacher Association President Lana Ajemian.

“Even assuming modest increases in school district expenses next year, schools cannot go it alone. The simple fact is, they will need a strong show of support from state lawmakers simply to maintain current programs. This is the year for the Legislature to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and fully fund the state aid Foundation Formula once and for all,” said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.

“Ensuring that every student receives a top-quality public school education will require a much greater investment by the state, especially since it has a multi-billion-dollar surplus. While Albany has, indeed, stepped up over the last two years, too many school districts are still digging out from budget holes created during the recession. A greater commitment of school aid – more resources for vital initiatives such as community schools, programs for English language learners and to help Career and Technical Education programs thrive – is the best way to ensure that every child is ready to learn at high levels; graduate and succeed in college or the workplace,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta.

“The recommendations being advanced by ECB are prudent and will promote educational equity and improved educational results. Students will be the true beneficiaries of the recommended actions,” said School Administrators Association of New York State Executive Director Kevin Casey.