Long Island public schools gain a record of more than $457 million in extra state financial aid for fiscal 2022-23, as part of a state budget that won lawmakers' final approval Saturday.
The 12.69% hike boosts aid to a combined total of more than $4 billion for the 120-plus districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Nassau's state assistance would rise by 16.52%, or $222.25 million, and Suffolk's by 10.41%, or $235.33 million.
Next school year's growth in state support, together with a hike of more than $417 million already approved for the current year, represents by far the biggest Islandwide aid packages in more than a decade. Most of the increases come in the form of "foundation" aid, which is the state's single biggest source of funding support for schools.
"This is a record investment in Long Island schools, and I am particularly excited about the new pre-K seats that will mean a great deal for families and giving our youngest students a big head start," State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- State financial aid to Long Island’s 120-plus school districts will rise more than $457 million next year under a legislative agreement — a record boost.
- Extra aid represents the second installment in a three-year plan, with a third installment promised for the 2023-24 school year.
- A major goal of the historic plan is to ensure that every district statewide has enough money to ensure a “sound, basic” education as required by the state’s constitution.
Kaminsky added that the state budget also provides money for an additional 15,000 prekindergarten seats statewide, including 4,300 on the Island.
Aid to the Nassau-Suffolk region is part of a $31.5 billion statewide school package. That's up about $160 million from a plan advanced by Gov. Kathy Hochul in January.
"The increase in state funding for education is good news for Oceanside and for schools across New York State," said Phyllis S. Harrington, superintendent of Oceanside schools and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "It's unprecedented and represents a significant commitment to children, to education and to the future of our state."
The latest aid increase is the second installment of a three-year payment package announced by state lawmakers last spring. Under this plan, state foundation aid, the biggest single source of education funding, is to grow by more than $4 billion. Money is provided via higher income taxes on millionaires, with rates among the nation's highest.
One goal of the state's plan is to provide all districts, including the poorest, with enough money to ensure students a "sound, basic" education as required by the state constitution. For school districts on the Island, this offers double-digit aid hikes percentagewise for many, including Glen Cove, Hempstead, Bay Shore and Wyandanch, and minimum increases of at least 3% for others.
"It offers educators a historic opportunity to do things they could never do before to help all students succeed," said Michael Cohen, a former Long Island school superintendent and academic analyst. "The question is, will the accountability be strict and will they use the opportunity to do the right thing?"
Before last week's legislative agreement on an aid package, some education leaders contended that surging inflation threatened to destabilize school budgets. On March 28, a group representing school business managers across the state issued a report underlining the potential impact of the inflation rate, now running 7.68% annually.
"Inflation has touched most aspects of daily personal and professional lives, no less so for school districts," the report began. "School district operations face the same challenges present within the larger economy, from escalating costs, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions."
The report went on to contend that the financial impact of inflation for schools was unlikely to be solved solely by increases in foundation aid, though it did acknowledge that such assistance is essential. Brian Cechnicki, who issued the report, is executive director of the statewide Association of School Business Officials, or ASBO, which is based in Albany.
ASBO's report did not include specific recommendations for raising more money. But in other statements, the business managers group has suggested that the state relax its tight limits, known as caps, on annual increases in property taxes.
The state's baseline cap is 2%; caps for local districts vary depending on local circumstances.
Taxpayer groups and others argue, on the other hand, that higher school funding is not the answer. One such organization is the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank that is also located in Albany.
"New York schools spend more money than any other state," said Tim Hoefer, the group's president and CEO, who cited federal data to support his position. "For decades, governors and legislatures have been throwing money around. But enrollments are down, performance is lagging, so it seems clear that money is not the problem."
Hoefer cited one section of ASBO's report, which noted that in four of the five latest years, caps for the majority of school districts exceeded the inflation rate.
"That's kind of the beauty of the law of averages," Hoefer said. "Inflation is going to go up, and it's going to go down. It's going to average out over time."