Advocates applaud Regents school aid increase request
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The state Board of Regents recommends that an additional $2.1 billion dollars be spent on schools next year and that a 12-year-old court order to fully fund schools be phased in over the next three years. The proposal is being applauded by school funding advocacy groups.

The Educational Conference Board includes teachers, school superintendents, school board members, and the PTA, among other groups. Board Chair John Yagielski says the over $2 billion dollars in additional funding that the Regents is recommending is needed to finally obey a 2006 order by the state’s highest court. The ruling said that New York must spend more money on the state’s poorest schools, in order to fulfill a constitutional mandate to ensure that every student receives an adequate education.

Yagielski says in the 12 years since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case was decided by the New York Court of Appeals, things have gotten worse for the state’s poorest and most vulnerable children.

“While we’ve had a decrease in overall enrollment, we’ve had an increase in the neediest students, by significant amounts,” Yagielski said.

Since the 2007-2008 school year, the number of children receiving free and reduced-price lunches has increased by 15 percent. There are 18 percent more students who need to learn English while in school, and the number of disabled students has grown by 14 percent.

The Educational Conference Board agrees with the Regents that an additional one and half billion dollars need to be placed in the state’s Foundation Aid formula over the next three years. That fund targets spending on the state’s neediest districts.

Marina Marcou- O’Malley, with the Alliance for Quality Education, a school funding advocacy group partly funded by the teachers’ union, says schools in poorer areas can’t draw on additional property tax levies to fund schools, like in richer districts.

“When you see those school districts, who have 70 or 80 percent poverty and are primarily black and brown, they do not have the same resources as their affluent counterparts have,” Marcou-O’Malley said.  

For the past several years the advocates, along with the Regents, have recommended that the court order be fulfilled. And for years, the final state budget has included increases in state aid to schools, but not at the amount determined by the court. Among those resisting the additional spending is Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said repeatedly that “more money is not the answer” for public education.

Marcou-O’Malley says there’s a good chance, though, that 2019 could be different. Democrats will hold a definitive majority in the State Senate, and many of them, along with the Democrats who control the Assembly, support the increased school aid.

“It’s a clear indication that there’s going to be a brand new day in Albany,” she said.  

Yagielski, with the Educational Conference Board, agrees.

“It certainly, from a political point of view, going to be a very different arrangement,” he said.

The group also wants to make changes to the state’s property tax cap, and allow for a true 2 percent increase in school taxes each year, if local school boards think the extra money is necessary.