ALBANY — The state’s Board of Regents called Monday for a $2 billion expansion of statewide school aid for the 2020-21 academic year — a request equivalent to a holiday season “wish list” rather than an estimate of available cash.
The proposal, similar to other plans that have gone largely unheeded by state lawmakers in recent years, represents a hike of more than 7% in assistance to public schools, which now totals $27.5 billion statewide. The bulk of that increase — $1.9 billion — would be in the form of so-called “foundation aid,” which, under its distribution formula, gives extra consideration to school districts with large numbers of students who are impoverished or speak languages other than English.
The aid expansion plan put forth by state Education Department staffers got nods Monday from two Regents who chair the board’s subcommittee on state aid. The full 17-member board is expected to formally adopt the plan on an advisory basis Tuesday, but final decisions on aid distribution are left to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature.
Some Regents, while supportive of the proposal, doubt it will have much practical effect in changing the minds of lawmakers, who have predicted a tight budget in the year ahead. Cuomo aides recently have spoken of a potential deficit totaling billions of dollars, which will have to be closed.
“Where do we think the money’s coming from?” asked a veteran board member, Regent Kathleen Cashin of Brooklyn.
One state education staffer, Brian Cechnicki, director of education finance, responded that prospects of aid growth remain uncertain. “I think we’ll have to wait and see what’s coming up in January,” he said.
Cuomo next month is scheduled to present his annual state budget plan to legislators, who under law must approve a package by April 1.
Typically, requests for state financial assistance from the Regents and their supporters in the public school lobby serve as expressions of perceived need, rather than realistic expectations.
At this time last year, for example, one umbrella group, the New York State Education Conference Board, which represents unionized teachers and other school organizations, called for a statewide aid hike of $2.2 billion. Four months later, the State Legislature, under pressure from Cuomo, settled for less than half that amount — just a shade over $1 billion.
School leaders on Long Island and elsewhere contend, nonetheless, that it is important to spotlight their financial needs, even if the state happens to be short of extra cash. Those leaders point out that they are dealing with state restrictions on how much funding they can raise through local property taxes — limitations known as “caps” — and that this makes them more dependent on Albany’s support.
“We all see the need for the state to hold up its side of the bargain,” said Joseph Dragone, assistant superintendent for business and administration in the Roslyn district. Dragone, who has more than 30 years’ experience in school finance, conducts an annual survey of district spending plans in the Nassau-Suffolk region.
At the state level, finances are expected to be tight during the next school year. On Nov. 22, the state’s Division of the Budget forecast that Medicaid spending alone would exceed allowable limits by $4 billion, unless needed steps were taken to postpone some health care payments while also containing costs in other ways.
In other action, the Regents on Monday approved the promotion of the department’s acting commissioner, Shannon Tahoe, to the post of interim commissioner. Staffers said the change means Tahoe, an attorney who previously served as chief counsel, will run the department until a permanent chief can be found, probably by June.