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Early signs point to promising year for funding of New York State public schools

Gov. Kathy Hochul's recent confirmation of a $21.3

Gov. Kathy Hochul's recent confirmation of a $21.3 billion foundation-aid package covering public schools on Long Island and statewide is a promising sign for New York State education funding in 2022-23. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Funding prospects for the 2022-23 educational year look promising already, with recent confirmation from Gov. Kathy Hochul of a $21.3 billion foundation-aid package covering public schools on Long Island and across the state.

Pledged expansion of the state's biggest school-assistance program was hailed Monday as "a big accomplishment" at a meeting of the state's Board of Regents, who set much of the state's education policy. Regents announced resumption of their own, separate effort to revamp high school graduation requirements, after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Confirmation of additional aid dollars came late last week, when Hochul outlined the settlement of a long-standing legal fight between the state and a New York City group seeking more dollars for schools there. Under the agreement, the state over three years will fully fund a "foundation" formula that drives the greatest amount of money to school systems with large numbers of impoverished students, both in New York City and statewide.

"Every single New Yorker deserves a quality education to succeed in our state, and public schools are a vital component of that opportunity for our children's upward mobility," the governor said in announcing the financing settlement.

Hochul's statement confirmed a commitment, initially approved by state lawmakers in April, that pegs foundation aid at $19.8 billion for the current 2021-22 year. The plan calls for increasing the total amount to $21.3 billion for 2022-23, and to $23.2 billion for 2023-24.

The central idea behind this historic aid expansion is that it would provide virtually every district — rich, poor or middle class — with enough money to provide students a "sound basic" education required by the state constitution. Schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties this year received a combined state-aid increase of 13%, or more than $400 million.

The extra state money is on top of millions of dollars in promised federal relief money. Much of that money is earmarked for particular priorities, such as upgrading school ventilation systems and tutoring students to make up for instructional time lost during the pandemic.

Another benefit of the state's promised phase-in of cash is that it eases much of the anxiety for local schools over how much money they can expect in the year to come. Ordinarily, schools would have to wait until January, when a governor typically proposes a budget, and then again until April, when state legislators agree on final figures.

"In general, this is good news," said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. "It's worth celebrating, because it acknowledges the need for the state to fulfill its obligation to its public schools."

Deller added, however, that the Island's legislative delegation to Albany still faced a challenge in ensuring that this region receives its fair share of future aid. The foundation formula originally was designed largely with New York City and other urban areas in mind, local analysts noted.

Meanwhile, the Regents announced extra funding of their own — a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to assist in revising the state's diploma requirements. Specifically, the money is to be used in pilot projects at selected schools that provide various paths to diplomas, with planning to start later this school year.

"Too many of New York's students — particularly our most vulnerable — are leaving high school without a diploma," said the state's education commissioner, Betty Rosa, in explaining one major rationale behind the move toward revisions. This would involve less emphasis on state regents' exams, Rosa has said.

Regents also issued a revised timetable for coming up with specific changes in graduation rules. A blue-ribbon advisory commission is to be established next fall, and issue recommendations in the winter or spring of 2024.

One veteran board member, Roger Tilles, who represents the Island, suggested accelerating the timetable to 2023 on grounds this could help students whose instruction was disrupted by the pandemic.

"I think it's really great that we're moving ahead," Tilles said at Monday's meeting. "There are too many kids who are just going through the motions now."

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