With the election behind us, our representatives in Albany turn their attention to planning for the 2023 legislative session. Their first priority should be to agree on a path forward to replace New York’s badly out-of-date school funding formula and find a permanent, systematic way to ensure our students’ educational rights are honored year in and year out.
New York needs a more equitable state funding formula for its public schools that meets current needs. The current formula for distributing state aid to schools, the Foundation Aid Formula, has been in place since 2007, and finally will be fully paid out in 2024. It needs to be replaced with a new model that corrects its defects, accounts for new needs, and would guarantee adequate and equitable funding beyond 2024.
Some schools, including those in New York City, are facing likely state funding cuts due to declining enrollment, and the termination of federal post-pandemic aid in 2025. Historically, New York State contributes between 40 and 50 percent of state education funding. Many critical needs like support for students in temporary housing, post-pandemic learning loss, and technology gaps are not considered by the current formula. Major aspects of its methodology, like the mechanism for calculating the number of students living in poverty in each school district and regional cost of living indices, are totally out of date.
The state must begin planning immediately for a fair new funding system. The process must be insulated from undue political influence, and it must respond to the experience of education stakeholders, the people most affected by inequities and inadequacies.
We call for the immediate establishment of a permanent, independent commission set up and to monitor the implementation of the new funding formula. (Read our proposal here.) The commission would also recommend modifications as necessary to ensure that the formula stays current and at all times meets the state’s obligation under the state constitution to offer all students the opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education.
To propose a new formula for the 2024-25 fiscal year, the commission needs to be established early in 2023, and its recommendations prepared and presented to the governor and the legislature by December 2023.
Our proposal for a new funding agreement and a permanent commission to oversee it are the next logical steps in the decades-long struggle to require New York State to fairly fund public schools. In 2003, in the CFE litigation, the New York Court of Appeals held that the state was not in compliance with its own constitution, which requires that the state provide adequate, equitable funding to ensure that every child receives a “meaningful opportunity” to obtain a “sound, basic education.”
To implement the court’s order, in 2007, the governor and legislature adopted the Foundation Aid Formula. That formula was based on a cost study undertaken by the state education department in 2006. Plaintiffs and most parent, education, and advocacy groups agreed that the $7 billion in extra funding promised by the new formula was a reasonable estimate of the actual costs needed to meet student needs throughout the state. Although the promised increases were supposed to be phased in over a four-year period, because of the 2008 recession and political impediments in the years following, the promised increased funding levels still have not fully been reached, 16 years later.
Two years ago, the governor and the legislature committed to pay out the remaining increases promised by the current Foundation Aid Formula over a three-year period. The state is scheduled to make the final payment on that agreement in 2024. But even as that chapter closes, the original Foundation Aid Formula is outdated and no longer complies with the state’s constitution.
In the 16 years since the current formula was adopted, New York has seen many changes in demographics, school policies, and state education mandates, creating many new resource inequities and inadequacies. These must be remedied to ensure all schools are fairly and adequately funded and students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education is honored in 2024 and the years to come.
Our proposal calls for a 15-member commission whose members would be appointed by the governor, the legislative leaders, and the commissioner of education, as well as by representatives of the major education and professional organizations, business leaders, advocacy groups, and parents. The commission would calculate the current cost of providing all New York students the opportunity for a sound basic education based on expert analyses, studies of successful practices and stakeholder input and suggest a comprehensive, new funding formula that would provide adequate resources for all students throughout the state. It would also monitor and propose periodic modifications to the funding formula and provide guidance and stability for effective, cost-efficient educational programming and planning.
With a permanent commission in place, parents and students won’t have to resort to litigation to ensure students’ educational rights are fulfilled in years to come.