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Groups call for changes to education in NY

A 7.1% increase to state school aid won’t cure all that ails New York’s schools.

That message was repeated often during more than 11 hours of testimony to a joint budget committee of the state Legislature earlier this week.

Increasing state aid only exacerbates New York’s status as the highest-spending state on education at a time when enrollment is decreasing statewide. That wasn’t the case statewide, where school enrollment decreased nearly 60,000 — 2.38% — in the past year. That comes on the heels of a 2.64% decrease statewide from 2019-20 to 2020-21. During the same two-year period, charter school enrollment increased by 14,502 students.

“Much energy is spent debating the questionable way state aid is allocated among school districts under the Foundation Aid formula,” Peter Warren, Empire Center research director, said during budget testimony before a joint legislative budget committee earlier this week. “But it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. The Empire Center publishes a School Budget Spotlight each year allowing residents to compare school district funding in locales across the state. Even in the region of the state that spends the least per student, the Mohawk Valley, schools spend more per pupil than the average in any other state. Since spending in New York is so high relative to other states – and since the correlation between additional spending and improved performance is (at best) unproven– New York should pursue alternative means of improving student achievement.”

Warren’s testimony ended with a plea for New York state to embrace charter schools, lifting the cap on charter schools in New York City and holding public schools to the same levels of accountability as charter schools. Roughly 80% of charter school students attend one of the 272 charter schools in New York City, compared to 54 charter schools located elsewhere in the state. But starting new charter schools isn’t the only solution, according to Warren.

“Schools can also be held more accountable. A good illustration is New York’s charter schools, which are held to greater accountability in exchange for greater operational autonomy. The schools use their flexibility to implement innovative curricula or teaching methods,” he testified.

RURAL SCHOOLS’ CONCERNS

As The Post-Journal and Dunkirk OBSERVER reported recently, many Chautauqua County schools won’t receive increased school aid as part of the state’s proposed aid increase because those districts are considered fully funded under the state’s Foundation Aid formula.

David Little, executive director of the Rural Schools Association of New York State, said the foundation aid increase doesn’t apply to 42% of rural school districts statewide, with many districts not receiving an increase in aid that equals the rate of inflation. He, too, called for changes to the way education is provided in New York state. Little called on the legislature to reform the state aid funding formula to adjust for poverty and other rural school issues, focus state attention on student mental health and substance abuse issues, support regionalism and help rural schools recruit teachers.

“You know that while almost all rural students graduate high school, they have a dismal rate of success in higher education (and there are fewer employment opportunities waiting at home.) You know that the reason is that they must pay for remedial coursework prior to beginning their chosen course of study; remedial work that should have been provided to them in the form of advanced study in high school. You pay for those courses in your urban and suburban schools and yet, not in your rural ones. You know that all of our surrounding neighbor states have had regional high schools for their rural areas for generations and that these high schools have been successful in providing the broader curricula and advanced coursework needed to make rural students competitive with their urban and suburban counterparts — and yet year after year, you take no action whatever.”

ALLIANCE FOR QUALITY EDUCATION CONCERNS

The Alliance for Quality Education has long fought for full funding of the Foundation Aid formula. The organization supports that aspect of Hochul’s budget for education, but say the aid proposal doesn’t go far enough in several areas, including reduction of class sizes, which have increased in New York City since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was decided.

The alliance is also focusing on charter schools, calling on action to curb the rising cost of charter schools and asking for more money for pre-kindergarten funding for districts outside New York City so that all districts can offer full-day programs.

“By providing at least $10,000 per child to all districts that currently have or need to implement pre-K, the state can begin to ensure that children are put on a path of success early on. Further, with more than half of all pre-K services offered in community programs, the state, in collaboration with local districts, needs to do more to promote equity in funding between public school and community-based programs,” Jasmine Gripper, AQE executive director, testified.

Child care funding is another concern for the AQE. An expansion of child care eligibility subsidies takes three years to implement, which Gripper said is too long considering the state’s federal stimulus funding that has yet to be budgeted.

“The enacted budget must include an investment of $5 billion to increase access, capacity of the child care system and compensate providers and teachers appropriately. Of that $5 billion, $2.8 billion must be invested to ensure that low and middle income families have access to early education programs,” Gripper said. “A scaled phase in of truly universal child care, means no requirements for access to the program of a family’s choice for low and middle income families, and then a sliding scale for those with higher incomes.”

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