Voters will cast ballots next Tuesday, May 17 on proposed budgets for school districts across New York State. The spending plans would collectively raise New York State’s highest in the nation per-pupil expenditure by 4.3 percent, and per-pupil school tax levies by 3.2 percent.
Among the 672 districts that submitted data, more than two-thirds (454) proposed tax levies that are over, at or within one percent of the cap level beyond which budget votes become statutorily subject to a supermajority approval requirement, according to budget data included in the Property Tax Report Card disclosures districts recently submitted to the New York State Education Department (NYSED).
Effective in 2012, the state’s local tax cap law limits property tax levies by all school districts—except in the state’s “big five” cities where school budgets are not subject to voter approval—to the lesser of two percent or the rate of inflation during the previous calendar year. In the current inflationary environment, the two percent cap hike kicks in as the “allowable levy” limit, as modified by locally variable growth factors including the value of property improvements and expenses related to previously voter-approved bond issues.
A simple majority is required to implement a school budget even if it calls for tax hikes under the cap, while budgets calling for tax levy increases above the locally applicable limit must meet the higher threshold of at least 60 percent voter approval. Only 15 of the 672 districts reporting called for tax levies exceeding their local levy limit, as shown below.
Collectively, the 672 districts proposed $42.3 billion in spending from all sources, a 4.1 percent increase over current-year school budgets. On a per-pupil basis, the proposed spending increase is greater, since enrollment at the 672 schools is projected to drop another 0.25 percent for the coming fall, atop a steep five percent plunge over the past two years.
Notwithstanding the tax cap – which has been in effect since 2012 and was made permanent in 2019 – New York spends more than any other state in the nation on public elementary-secondary education, on a per-pupil basis.
Some districts, like the Schenectady City School District — which is proposing a 9.3 percent budget increase for the coming year— would raise spending significantly without exceeding the tax cap by leveraging recently-budgeted hikes in state operating support (Foundation Aid), and temporarily available federal pandemic relief aid.
Nearly $12 billion in largely unspent federal emergency dollars were awarded to New York State school districts in pandemic relief laws enacted in December 2020 and March 2021. Those funds don’t expire until September 30, 2023.
The maps below highlight county and regional data, including total spending and per-pupil spending. These breakdowns reveal regional variation in proposed expenditures and projected enrollment. For instance, budgeted per-pupil expenditures are highest on Long Island ($34,249) and in the Mid-Hudson region (32,687); and lowest in Western New York ($25,068) and the Mohawk Valley ($25,249). Enrollment projections vary in each region, ranging from a 0.4 percent increase in the Mohawk Valley to a 0.63 percent drop in the capital region.