Lawmakers & advocates agree to press Cuomo to close education funding gap

Lawmakers were again pushed to fully fund Foundation Aid, the main source of funding for New York state’s public schools, at a state Senate Education Committee public hearing held Tuesday in Manhattan. 

The message is not new. The hearing, hosted by committee chairs state Senator Shelley Mayer and state Senator Brian Benjamin, comes two weeks after the last of five roundtable discussions the committee held across the state. The sessions were held to gather community input on how to best adjust the 12-year-old Foundation Aid formula. 

Foundation Aid was created in the mid-2000s based on a lawsuit challenging the existing funding formula, which a court ruling found to create greater inequality throughout the Empire State’s schools. But differences in the ruling’s interpretation have divided the Governor and state lawmakers for years.

Those who testified at the Dec. 3 hearing repeated the message at the last roundtable discussion: The first step to making improving the quality of education is to fully fund Foundation Aid as it was intended. 

“It’s important that we get more money into the hands of principals,” said New York City Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Lindsey Oates who added the city is owed $1.1 billion in education funding. According to the formula, Oates said, the city should have received $9.2 billion in funding but only received a little over $8 billion last fiscal year. Some lawmakers and advocates say that a total of $4 billion is owed to districts across the state. Oates added that additional funds could go towards hiring more teachers, guidance counselors, mental health professionals and multilingual education services.  “We know that when we provide additional resources to principals that they hire additional staff.” 

But union officials, school officials, advocates and city representatives were reminded that changes to Foundation Aid were not just up to committee members, and that the governor would need to be convinced to help bring about change. 

“We have looked at and found new sources of resources of revenue to fully fund it and I think we are ready to increase the budget amount but there is one person who is not ready,” said state Senator John Liu about Governor Cuomo the hearing held at 250 Broadway. Liu called the 2 percent cap on annual budget increases  a “personal edict” that was not rooted in the law.  

Liu asked both the president of New York State United Teachers Andrew Pallotta and president of the United Federation of Teachers Michael Mulgrew, “Will you stand with us and demand that he throw this ridiculously arbitrary 2 percent spending increase cap out the window?”

Both responded that they would stand with lawmakers in the “battle” to come. And that they believed that the time had come for advocates, teachers and elected officials to stand together and demand change and agreed to meet state Senator Liu in Albany at the start of the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 8. 

The Governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech