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Lawmakers plan restorations to Hochul's proposed school aid reductions

This file photo shows the New York state Capitol in Albany.
Hans Pennink
Associated Press file photo
This file photo shows the New York state Capitol in Albany.

Ahead of the expected release of budget plans from New York’s Assembly and Senate early next week, both houses say they plan to restore school aid reductions proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Hochul wants to make changes to what’s known as the state’s foundation aid formula that’s used to determine the distribution of state aid to schools. She would end the “hold harmless” practice, which guarantees that no school district receives less money than it did the previous year. She also wants to alter the way inflation is calculated that would result in less money for some schools this year.

The proposal has drawn bipartisan opposition.

Analysis by the Senate Democrats’ fiscal team estimated schools could lose over $400 million in aid.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the reductions would have a “massive impact” on schools.

“Almost half of the school districts in the state will be receiving less funding than they would have anticipated,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters on Tuesday. “We're very, very concerned about that.”

Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer, speaking at a news conference that included the teachers union, the school boards association and the PTA, among others, said lawmakers “can’t allow (the) cuts to go forward.”

“I am very confident that my colleagues in the Senate majority will stand to fully reject the cuts that the governor has proposed,” Mayer said.

Republicans, who are in the minority party in both houses, are also opposed to the cuts.

GOP Sen. Jim Tedisco, the ranking member of the Senate Education Committee and a former high school teacher, said students are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic and continue to need special mental health and other services initiated in the past couple of years.

“We had a little something called COVID. Our kids sat in the kitchen, many of them in front of a TV camera on a computer while other educators were miles away, on another one,” Tedisco said. “It didn't work. If you look at what happened, there's developmental backstepping.”

Hochul is defending her proposals. She said for the past two years, there were record increases in school spending as she fulfilled a nearly two decades-old court order to fully fund education. Schools also benefited from one-time federal pandemic relief aid packages. She said no one should expect that level of spending to continue.

“I assume rational people would’ve understood that that can't happen,” Hochul said. “It is not a cut when you compare it to where we were before I took office, and it's still a huge increase. But I understand the passions behind this. I understand the desire for people to stir this up.”

Hochul said she’s setting aside an additional $100 million to help make adjustments for schools that would lose significant funding if the hold harmless provision is ended. But she said the number of school-age children in the state is declining, and the school aid should change accordingly.

“Are we really going to be locked into a formula just because it has been done that way for a long time?” Hochul said. “I'll never accept that as a satisfactory answer on how I do anything in state government.”

In an interview with public radio this week, Hochul’s budget director, Blake Washington, said his office and the Senate and Assembly’s fiscal committees recently re-evaluated tax revenue collections, and found that the state has an additional $1.3 billion coming in than originally anticipated.

Washington said the administration will be talking with lawmakers about potential restoration of school aid and other items.

“We’ll be looking forward to working with the Legislature to do just that,” Washington said.

The Senate and Assembly say they will present their budget plans on Monday. After that, they have three weeks until the spending plan is due on April 1.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.