State education officials are expected to call Monday for more than $2 billion in additional school aid for the 2017-18 academic year — money that would be distributed with the help of more accurate counts of student poverty in deciding which districts should get extra money.
Reliable poverty counts are crucial, analysts said, in dealing with a rise in economic inequality across the state and ensuring that students enrolled in the poorest districts get a fair shake. But the push by those officials to revise the state’s aid-distribution formula has caused unease in some parts of Long Island, where school representatives said this could shift more financial assistance to New York City.
School aid issues are scheduled to be taken up Monday by the state Board of Regents, which makes annual recommendations on educational funding and its distribution. These are passed along to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers, who have the final say and often come up with smaller financial packages than those recommended.
Proposals submitted to the Regents by staff in the state Education Department are expected to include, along with an overall aid increase, more financial support for teacher training, pre-kindergarten education and for English instruction of immigrant students.
The recommendations for a more accurate definition of poverty were already submitted to the governor and legislature in October.
“We’ve got to close the [economic] gaps,” said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Nassau and Suffolk counties on the Regents panel. He added that any distribution change would not hurt districts with more taxable wealth.
“We’re not going to cut back on quality,” Tilles said.
Debate over aid distribution goes back to 2007, when then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer pushed through a new statewide “foundation aid” formula designed to drive additional billions of dollars to New York City. The change followed a ruling by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, that said city schools were being shortchanged.
A recession and a stock market crash the following year put aid-expansion plans on hold. Instead, Albany cut financial assistance to schools in 2010-11 and 2011-12, with districts on Long Island among the biggest losers. The last of those reductions have been restored for the 2016-17 school year.
With that controversy out of the way, statewide school organizations have declared that 2017-18 is the year when Albany should meet its previous “commitments” and phase in full funding of the foundation formula. The statewide price tag for achieving this has been set as high as $3.8 billion.
The Cuomo administration has rejected this argument, and so far has committed itself to an aid hike next year of no more than $1.1 billion.
On the Island, school administrators described the coming year as pivotal in terms of an expected political struggle over aid distribution. Those administrators pointed to stark differences among local districts in terms of poverty rates and income wealth as evidence of how difficult it will be to arrive at a distribution system satisfactory to everyone.
Recent analysis by the New York State Association of School Business Officials, an Albany-based advocacy and research group, suggested that full funding of the foundation formula could potentially result in aid hikes of 20 percent or more for districts in the region such as Brentwood, Copiague, Hempstead and Westbury, while producing aid losses for more than 30 other area systems.
“It shows what superintendents have been saying for years — that the foundation formula as presently structured is not going to work well on Long Island,” said Julie Lutz, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffok BOCES and a regional expert on school finance.