On this week’s program, we delve into a form of state aid for our public schools called Foundation Aid, which was the topic of a series of roundtables and public hearings that were held by the New York State Senate.
Ahead of these public hearings, testimony from education experts and at least one report were released by organizations including the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the Citizens Budget Commission, and the Alliance for Quality Education.
Foundation Aid is not easy to explain as it is a complicated formula to determine how a school district will receive the funds. Its formula can be found here.
According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED), Foundation Aid supplements federal and local funding for school districts to help provide resources for education. There are a number of state aid programs that assist schools in New York State, but Foundation Aid is the largest unrestricted aid category supporting public school district expenditures. In the 2019-2020 school year, Foundation Aid represents approximately 67.3 percent of the total state aid received by districts statewide.
The formula for Foundation Aid “considers the cost of education in successful schools, the level of student needs in a district, the school district’s ability to raise local revenue and contribute toward the cost, and regional cost differences around the state. The Foundation Aid formula is the only wealth equalizing formula in New York State law,” according to the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE).
According to the Council of School Superintendents, New York’s school districts appear to be “treading water” financially, with most superintendents reporting little or no change in their district’s financial condition compared to a year ago. But urgent concerns about the ability of schools to meet student needs remain.
In a statement from the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), David Friedfel, director of state studies for the CBC, summarized his testimony with four key issues: 1) The Foundation Aid formula is flawed. Use of old data and artificial caps limits growth in aid for some districts, while faulty calculations of local revenues and “hold harmless” provisions drive aid to other districts that is above and beyond what is needed to provide a sound basic education. 2) Other aid streams are not based on district need. 3) Total education funding has increased significantly since Foundation Aid was created. 4) In school year 2017-2018, twenty-five school districts did not have sufficient resources to provide a sound basic education despite statewide spending that is $13.6 billion more than needed for all districts to provide a sound basic education.
On top of this, the panel of education experts we spoke with said the state is $3.4 billion behind in fully funding Foundation Aid since it stopped being fully funded after the recession. Options for how to handle the future of Foundation Aid include: scrapping it and replacing it, tweaking it and updating it, and fully-funding the aid.
The Foundation Aid formula was first adopted in 2007, following a state court case which looked into whether the state was providing schools with enough funding to provide a sound basic education. The aid was designed to end school funding decisions made based on politics but, according to the AQE’s report “Foundation Aid in Name Only,” the state funds are still not equally being dispersed to school districts – and students – in need.
An example the AQE gave in their report co-written by the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York: “In Schenectady, eight out of 10 students are economically disadvantaged. The district is only able to provide mental health services to one third of the students that need them. They do not have the resources to provide extended day programs and school enrichment programs to all the students who need them and cannot afford to provide transportation, limiting access to those students whose parents’ could provide their own transportation.”
The report further states that New York has not actually used the Foundation Aid formula since 2008-2009. “In fact, in every year since 2012-13, the state has instead substituted a series of makeshift, one-year formulas and just labelled this money as Foundation Aid. So the money that school districts receive as Foundation Aid is not based at all upon the Foundation Aid formula. It is Foundation Aid in name only,” reads the report that came out this past October.
Some recommendations from these organizations include: actually using the Foundation Aid formula and to use updated data for poverty, such as direct certification data.
An email from the NYSED stated: More than a decade has passed since the creation of the Foundation Aid formula. A combination of difficulties in the state's fiscal condition during and after the Great Recession, combined with the need for updating components included within the formula, has left many districts in the state short of their full phase-in level. A series of challenges facing individual school districts has highlighted the need for additional state support, in the form of both additional financial resources and technical assistance. The Board of Regents supports the continued phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula, with a significant investment in additional funding, including Pre-Kindergarten.
With the help of Rachel Silberstein, the Times Union’s education reporter, we’ll look more into Foundation Aid this week on New York NOW with Bob Lowry of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, Jasmine Gripper of the AQE, and David Friedfel of the CBC.