1. Maintain the Commitment to the Foundation Aid Phase-In and Hold School Districts Harmless from Pandemic Related Reductions in Expense-Based Funding
We are pleased that the Executive Budget maintains the commitment to the Foundation Aid phase-in. Going forward, we urge the State to ensure that the Foundation Aid formula is transparent, predictable and captures unique student needs.
We appreciate the Executive Budget’s incorporation of full funding for expense-based aids. These categories of aid should remain linked to actual expenditures. In addition, school districts continue to face a plethora of uncertainties related to the pandemic and should be held harmless from potential losses in expense-based aids including Transportation and Special Services Aids.
2. Limit Charter School Expansion, Repair the Authorization and Funding Systems, and Enhance Accountability and Oversight
Charter school expansion in saturated school districts must be limited and the New York State Board of Regents designated as the sole authorizing authority. The State must also prohibit charter schools from expanding to serve additional grade levels when this would alter the school’s current grade configuration.
In addition, Supplemental Charter School Tuition payments must be reimbursed in the year they are paid. School districts should not be burdened with cash flow struggles and short-term borrowing expenses caused by delayed reimbursement.
Furthermore, an independent entity must be appointed to oversee the dissolution of charter schools to ensure public funds are protected and returned to school districts as required under current statute and charter school reserves must be limited. It is unconscionable to continue to advance public funds to charter schools with reserves, in some cases, in excess of 50-150 percent of their total annual operating budget.
Charter schools must be required to provide school districts with accurate enrollment and attendance information in a timely fashion and a statutory process established whereby school districts may recoup excess charter school payments from prior years.
Lastly, enhanced accountability measures must be applied to charter schools to ensure that enrollment accurately reflects district pupil demographics.
3. Expand Special Services Aid for Career and Technical Education (CTE)
The Big 5 school districts currently operate some of the most innovative and successful CTE programs in the State and continue to grow these programs. The $3,900 per pupil formula-based funding cap under Special Services Aid must be increased and reimbursement adjusted to align with current programs 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.
4. Fully Fund Prekindergarten Programs in High Need School Districts
The Conference’s school districts operate some of the State’s longest running and most successful Prekindergarten programs. 71% of the State’s Prekindergarteners are educated in the Big 5 school districts. 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 and hold school districts harmless from reductions in aid resulting from enrollment declines that can be attributed to the pandemic.
5. Increase School Health Services Funding and Provide Critical Resources to Meet Social Emotional Needs
Many Big 5 pupils have limited access to health and mental health services outside of the regular school day. Each of the Big 5 school districts provide 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.
We are pleased to see the inclusion of $100 million in funding under the proposed Recover From COVID School Program to support critical social emotional issues and learning loss. We ask for a commitment to extend this support beyond two years as the current funding cliff faced when the federal funds are exhausted is already a significant concern. Our school districts had monumental needs before the pandemic hit that were not being met and these have only been exacerbated.
6. Increase Funding for Instructional Materials and Permanently Address the Digital Divide
Funding for instructional materials including textbooks, software, hardware and library materials has been frozen for decades. The State must take action to increase aid to ensure school districts have the capacity to provide students with the materials they need and deserve. In addition, school districts must be provided with sustained support to ensure that all students and staff have access to critical technology and connectivity.
7. Provide Forgiveness for Transportation and Building Aid Filing Penalties
We applaud the Governor for proposing a comprehensive solution related to Building Aid and Transportation Aid late filing penalty forgiveness. This is long overdue. School districts should not be penalized for clerical errors. The current piecemeal approach is unduly burdensome to the State and school districts.
8. Provide Additional funding 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. Our eight member school districts serve large numbers of refugee students who speak little or no English and need expanded services. In fact, almost 66% of all English Language Learners are educated in the Big 5. More funding is needed to support additional bilingual teachers, translators and support services.
9. Target Funding for Critical Professional Development
Additional resources must be provided to support ongoing and enhanced 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.
In addition, we support the Governor’s inclusion of the retiree earning waiver extension. Such a waiver will provide school districts with another avenue by which to pursue filling vacancies in many shortage areas. We continue to work closely with the State Education Department, along with other stakeholders, to address the teacher shortage and we urge the State to make the required investments and think creatively about providing flexibility.
10. Reimburse Urban School Districts for Transportation of Pupils Below Current Mileage Limits to Keep Students Safe
The current Transportation Aid mileage limitations are not aligned with the conditions in our State’s urban centers. While the State acted last year to address this issue through modifications to school safety zones outside of the Big 5, there was no action taken to afford students in the large cities the same protections. It is imperative that the State address this issue by reimbursing school districts in the Big 5 for school transportation below the current 1.5 mile limit in instances where the State Education Department deems there is a safety issue.
11. Take Action to Afford School Districts the Ability to Maximize Medicaid Dollars
The State must establish a data use agreement between the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Education Department to provide for the sharing of CIN numbers under Medicaid to enable school districts to maximize resources and must take action to authorize Medicaid reimbursement for essential non-IEP services under Free Care.
12. Maintain the State Education Department’s Oversight for Child Nutrition Programs
The Governor’s proposal to shift the responsibility for the Child Nutrition Programs from The State Education Department to Agriculture and Markets must be rejected. This change would upend a program that is exceptionally well run and inevitably create unnecessary confusion and strain for school districts.
13. Reject the Permanent Special Education Cost Shift
The Executive Budget’s proposal to permanently transfer the State's responsibility for maintenance costs of State-operated schools for the blind and deaf to school districts must be rejected. School districts cannot afford to continue to shoulder this increase.
Conference of Big 5 School Districts
17 Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207