State Budget/Legislative Issues

2021-2022 State Aid Recommendations

1. State Aid must be increased and federal dollars targeted for pandemic related purposes.
We appreciate the Governor’s attempt to protect school districts from damaging reductions in State support through the use of received and anticipated federal assistance.  However, we remain deeply concerned about the Executive Budget’s reliance on non-recurring federal funding.

Our school districts will not have the capacity or reserves to survive the funding cliff the loss of federal support will result in.  These revenues were intended to support pandemic related expenses including enhanced academic interventions, expanded summer school offerings, and the inevitable need for additional social and emotional supports.

The State must increase support for education, target the federal dollars for the purposes for which they were intended, and initiate a multi-year plan to phase-in full funding of the Foundation Aid formula in a manner that is transparent, predictable and captures unique student needs. 

2. The Executive Budgets proposed merger of eleven expense-based aids must be rejected.
The Executive Budget’s proposed merger of eleven expense-based aids including Transportation, Special Services and Charter School Transitional Aids into a new funding stream deemed Services Aid would 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 scarce resources from the classroom in order to cover increased expenses in these areas.

3. The proposal to aid pandemic related transportation expenses must be expanded.
We are pleased with the Governor’s recommendation to provide Transportation Aid reimbursement for expenses related to the delivery of meals and instructional materials as well as provision of internet access.  However, the proposal must be expanded to authorize reimbursement for all transportation expenses incurred throughout the entirety of the pandemic. 

4. 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 should be applied to charter schools to ensure that enrollment accurately reflects district pupil demographics.

We appreciate the Executive proposal to reduce charter school tuition rates in 2021-2022, but the reductions do not go far enough.  Furthermore, Supplemental Charter School Tuition reimbursement must be fully funded and accelerated to provide current year reimbursement.  Transitional Aid must also be expanded to capture conversion and district-sponsored charter schools and extended beyond three years for all schools.

The Executive Budget proposal to reissue charters previously revoked, surrendered, not renewed or terminated runs contrary to the spirit of the law and should be rejected.  In addition, the elimination of State reimbursement to New York City through charter school facilities aid must be restored.  

5. 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.

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 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, particularly in light of the anticipated policy changes on the federal level given the new administration.

6. Special Services Aid and Career and Technical Education funds must be expanded.
The Big 5 school districts currently operate some of the most innovative and successful CTE programs in the State and we 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 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.

7. Prekindergarten funding must be increased.
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.

8. School Health Services funding must be restored, expanded and increased.
Many Big 5 pupils have limited access to health and mental health services outside of the regular school day.  Each of our 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.

9. Additional targeted funding is needed 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.

2021 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 enroll 46% 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.
  • 71% of New York State’s prekindergarteners are educated in our school districts.
  • The percentages of our pupils with extraordinary needs are: Buffalo 87%; NYC 76%; Rochester 92%; Syracuse 87%; Yonkers 69%; Albany 70%; Mount Vernon 69%; and Utica 88%.
  • 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 72 years old.

Download the 2021 Overview and Data here.

State Budget Testimony

Budget Testimony Before New York State Legislative Fiscal and Education Committees – January 28, 2021

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, representing the Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany, Mount Vernon and Utica City 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.

The Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic facing the United States and the world has highlighted the inequities in public education and required school districts to rethink their instructional models and to serve their communities in unprecedented ways.  The digital divide and its impact on our neediest students is glaring. The Big 5 school districts have worked tirelessly to provide students and teachers with the technology, connectivity and support necessary to engage in a meaningful instructional model absent, in many cases, dedicated funding for these purposes. In addition, school districts have been forced to shoulder a plethora of significant pandemic related costs including PPE, air purification systems and upgrades, specialty cleaning supplies and overtime for maintenance and grounds staff.

We recognize the devastation the pandemic has inflicted on our economy and appreciate the Governor’s attempt to protect school districts from damaging reductions in State support through the use of received and anticipated federal assistance.  We are also relieved that assurances have been made that previously withheld State funds will be restored and further current year reductions will not take place.  However, we remain deeply concerned about the precarious nature of the Executive proposal given its reliance on non-recurring federal funding. 

Our school districts will not have the capacity or reserves to survive the inevitable funding cliff over reliance on the one-time federal support will result in. These revenues were intended to support pandemic related expenses that school districts have taken on and continue to incur.  Many school districts are already working round the clock to address the anticipated need for enhanced academic interventions, including expanded summer school offerings, and the inevitable need for additional social and emotional supports.  Furthermore, absent an assurance that adequate federal aid will be realized, school districts are again placed in the precarious position of having to plan for the possibility of damaging mid-year reductions.  

It is important to note that the Big 5 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.  There is no expectation that any of their respective struggling cities will have the capacity to increase the local share for education. 

We urge you to increase State support for education, to target the federal dollars for the purposes for which they were intended, and to initiate a multi-year plan to phase-in full funding of the Foundation Aid formula in a manner that is transparent, predictable and captures unique student needs.

Expense-Based Aids

The Executive Budget’s proposal to cap growth in expense-based aids by merging 11 aid categories into the newly created Services Aid is especially troubling.  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 this proposal.

With regard to Transportation Aid, we are pleased with the Governor’s recommendation to aid expenses related to the delivery of meals and instructional materials as well as internet access. However, we call upon you to expand allowable expenses to authorize reimbursement for all transportation expenses incurred throughout the entirety of the pandemic. 

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.  We appreciate the Executive proposal to reduce charter school tuition rates in 2021-2022 but the reductions do not go far enough. Furthermore, Supplemental Charter School Tuition reimbursement must be fully funded, should 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.

The Executive Budget proposal to reissue charters previously revoked, surrendered, not renewed or terminated runs contrary to the spirit of the law and should be rejected. In addition, the elimination of State reimbursement to New York City through charter school facilities aid must be restored. 

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, particularly in light of the anticipated policy changes on the federal level given the new administration.

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 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.

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.

Prior Year Aid Claims

We urge the rejection of the Executive Budget proposal to eliminate annual funding dedicated to the payment of prior year aid claims. This arbitrary action would penalize districts anticipating these revenues.

Thank you, again, for affording me this opportunity to comment on the    Executive Budget proposal.  I look forward to working with you in the coming weeks and remain available to answer any questions or provide any information that may be of assistance to you. 

Download file here:
2021 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

BIG5 bw white web

CONFERENCE OF BIG 5 SCHOOL DISTRICTS
17 Elk Street - 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12207

Contact Us:
518.465.4274 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

©  2021  Conference of Big 5 School Districts. All Rights Reserved.