schoolbus2-150x150-2300191New York State’s public education establishment has issued its annual state budget recommendations for the 2019-20 school year—and in keeping with what’s become an end-of-year Albany tradition, the numbers bear little relation to fiscal reality.

The state Board of Regents, New York’s supreme education policy-making body, today proposed a $2.1 billion increase in state Foundation Aid to school districts for the 2019-20 school year. The amount includes “$1.66 billion in aid formula increases, $410 million in statutory reimbursement-based aid increases, $25 million for the expansion of career and technical education (CTE) programs and $26 million for universal prekindergarten expansion.”

Board members also unanimously advanced a separate list of what their news release called “a bold and comprehensive set of funding proposals” that came to more than $70 million.

The recommendation from the state’s supreme education policymaking body comes a few days after the Educational Conference Board (ECB)—an umbrella group including organizations of school boards and school administrators, as well as the statewide teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). The ECB issued its own call for a $2.2 billion hike in state aid next year.

The two wish lists differ slightly in their details; for example, the Regents want $1.66 billion in enrollment-driven “formula aid” while the ECB plan seeks $1.3 billion more in this category. Like the Regents, the ECB groups want at least $400 million more for expense-based reimbursements for items such as student transportation and special education, and both aid proposals also call for more money for programs targeted at English-language learners.

Reality checks

Under both plans, 2019-20 state aid to school districts would be boosted over current amounts by nearly 8 percent—or nearly four times the projected rate of inflation, at a time when statewide public school enrollments have been slowly but steadily spiraling downward. As of 2016, the latest year for which comparative data available, New York led all states with public school spending of $22,316 per pupil, 90 percent above the U.S. average.

The $2.2 billion in school aid hikes recommended by the Regents and the ECB would be more than double the $956 million aid increase assumed in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest financial plan update.

If Cuomo adheres (as repeatedly promised) to his self-imposed 2 percent cap on state operating funds growth in the next state budget, the school aid increases sought by the Regents and the ECB would consume virtually all allowable added state spending—after, that is, Cuomo closes a budget gap projected at $402 million, which the state faces even with spending capped at 2 percent.

Of course, the Regents are fully aware of the actual state budget outlook—as are New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the other school fiscally sophisticated advocacy groups in the ECB. If they’re following the news, they are also aware of a stock market trend that could undermine the state’s economy and revenue base.

But just because the proposals are unrealistic doesn’t make them irrelevant. The annual Regents and school lobby budget wish lists form the basis for spending pressure by ECB legislative allies who maintain (falsely) that the original school aid overhaul enacted in 2007 by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer was a “promise” the state has repeatedly broken since the Great Recession.

Loosening the cap

In addition to calling for an aid increase that would effectively require an increases in state taxes, the Conference Board also called for a loosening of the statewide cap on school property tax levies, a key Cuomo initiative first enacted in 2011 and due for extension next year.

In districts outside New York City, Yonkers and the four largest upstate cities, the cap requires approval by a 60 percent supermajority of district voters for any proposed school budget exceeding an allowable levy limit of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower (subject to varying local allowances). The ECB wants the cap raised to a flat 2 percent.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

Hochul’s Pandemic Study Is a $4.3 Million Flop

The newly released study of New York's coronavirus pandemic response falls far short of what Governor Hochul promised – and the state urgently needs – in the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern history. Read More

NY’s biggest public pension fund gained nearly 12% in FY 2024

Rebounding from its biggest loss since the Global Financial Crisis, New York's Common Retirement Fund realized a strong investment gain of 11.55 percent in fiscal year 2024, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced. The Fund, which now stands just below $268 billion, supports pensions paid to members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). Read More

82 Questions Hochul’s Pandemic Report Should Answer

This is the month when New Yorkers are due to finally receive an official report on the state's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the deadliest disasters in state history. T Read More

The Real Lack of Courage Driving NYC Congestion Pricing

Governor Hochul is taking heat after postponing the state’s years-old plan to charge drivers to enter lower Manhattan. As critics slam her for lacking “political courage,” it’s an appropriate time to examine some of the underlying issues that congestion pricing was meant to indirectly mitigate—because many if not most advocates were afraid to touch those issues themselves. And if congestion pricing proponents are to be taken at their word about their concern for MTA finances, or traffic, or air quality, they must show some of the same courage they’ve accused the governor of lacking. Read More

To Encourage Recycling, Pols Move To Trash The Legislature

New York state lawmakers in recent years have surrendered some of their policymaking and taxing powers to the executive branch. With the 2024 legislative session coming to close, they’re poised to go even further and turn those powers over to an organization outside of government entirely. Read More

Lawmakers Seek To Revive a $10 Fee for Prescriptions That Was Dropped by DFS

A plan to require a $10.18 "dispensing fee" for filling drug prescriptions is back on the table in Albany – this time in the form of legislation rather than regulation. The Read More

Running Over Taxpayers: Legislature Speeding to Protect Cadillac Benefits for NYC Retirees

Bills designed to block any change to retiree health coverage for state and local public employees have been introduced repeatedly by legislators in both parties over the past 30 years. But the latest statewide “anti-diminution” measure, inspired by an ongoing controversy in New York City, would be the broadest and most costly yet—and more than two-thirds of state lawmakers are supporting it. Read More

How a Medicaid ‘Cut’ Could Lead to More Unionization of Home Care Aides

A money-saving maneuver in the newly enacted Medicaid budget could end up increasing costs in the long term – by paving the way for more unionization of the state's burgeoning home health workforce. Read More