© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NYS School Boards Assoc. happy with Gov. Hochul's funding proposals

small desks in a school classroom
Paul Tuthill

Governor Kathy Hochul laid out her policy goals for 2023 in her State of the State speech this week. The Democrat is seeking to invest billions of additional dollars into New York’s public school system through Foundation Aid. It’s distributed through a formula that takes school district wealth and student needs into consideration, with the goal of equally distributing resources for all students. Under Hochul’s plan, state schools would see an additional $2.7 billion in Foundation Aid funding, an increase of about 13 percent, bringing the state's total investment in Foundation Aid to around $24 billion.

To gauge how school districts are reacting to the governor’s school funding goals, WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Bob Schneider, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association.

Schneider: Well, we're thrilled with that number that the governor has put into the State of the State as far as what she's proposing. That represents a 13% increase in Foundation Aid, which is the operational aid, the largest aid category, that is the funding in order for our school districts to run the school system throughout the year. Now 13% is a good jump, it's greater than inflation. And we have to realize that schools have significant increased costs due to this inflation issue. Just think about busing, you know, we see it at the pump with our own individual cars. Imagine what a fleet of buses cost now to fuel up and heating rooms and things of that nature. So we see two things, she is committed to the Foundation Aid restoration phase-in. The third payment was due this year. That's part of that increase. And she's giving us the important increases to support not only the inflation costs, but all the important resources that go into running a school district every day, every month and every year.

Levulis: Governor Hochul in her State of State address promised to invest $125 million to expand full-day pre-K, saying with that funding, about 95% of the state would have access to universal pre-K for four-year-olds. Do you think that's enough to meet that goal, that dollar figure, to meet that 95% goal?

Schneider: We're very happy with that number. It basically doubles what was in the budget last year, and that 95% of students, four-year-olds, that have access to universal pre-K is really important. You can imagine the foundations are built when the child is very young. They can get into a pre-K system, they can get some maybe reading instructions, some social interaction, and once they get into kindergarten, they hit the ground running. And we think it's a cost savings in the long run, because building that foundation early on will hopefully, there won't be remediation in the later years in high school, when a student who might not have had access to pre-K to get going as far as you know, certain skills and learning skills and things of that nature, we might have to invest more cost to get them to get up to speed.

Levulis: Do you know when the expectation would be to meet 100% of the state having universal pre-K?

Schneider: No, I do not. I know that's the goal. We're getting there. You know 95% is an impressive number at this point. And we are hoping when the legislature puts their budget out and the negotiations start that at least that number stays in the budget.

Levulis: Governor Hochul mentioned she wants to address learning losses that occurred during the pandemic, something we've spoken about before, by using $250 million of that Foundation Aid promise to fund tutoring programs. She said those could be set up by districts in-house or using partnerships. In your mind is the infrastructure there across the state to roll that sort of system out?

Schneider: Well, we do have a shortage. It's a very good question. Not only a shortage in teacher workforce, in certain areas, we have shortages in bus drivers, health, mental health counselors, things of that nature. But I do think our schools have been creative. They recognize that high-dosage tutoring is an important way to get the students that have been lagging based on the unfortunate result of the pandemic and the learning loss as you refer to. High-dosage tutoring is really important. And I think schools can lean on retired teachers to come back and help out and have teachers be assigned to one two or three students to do this high-dosage tutoring, which is different than the tutoring I was accustomed to when I was young. If I had lacking grades my mother or a family member would help me out at home. High-dosage tutoring is in the actual school curriculum. It happens during the year. It's part of the teaching program throughout. So the students are getting it every week, several times throughout the year. So it's really a proven way to catch these students up. I know our school districts are very creative as far as coming up with solutions. But you can't avoid the fact that there are staffing shortages in some places. So you know, but they can get creative as long as the money's there from the state.

Levulis: If I remember correctly, the School Boards Association put out a report out recently, I'll say in the past couple of years, on that high-dosage tutoring?

Schneider: Oh, yes, we did. As we saw, we'll call it the learning loss again, but we have to look at it as a learning opportunity, the fundings there when we have an opportunity, as long as this budget supports our systems, our superintendents, our boards and our teachers to bring these students back up to speed. But we saw, you know, it was not an ideal situation, when basically this state was hit the hardest at the beginning. And we had to pivot and a lot of schools closed down. And then we had hybrid where they'd be in the classroom once in a while, and then they would be out of the classroom. Now a lot of students thrived. But there was a lot of students at risk, or maybe needed to be alive in the classroom that have slipped backwards. And that happened in other states. So we recognize that and we realize one of those solutions is that high-dosage tutoring, which is so important, because it's baked in to the whole year as far as the learning plan for the school district versus one off tutoring when you need it. When you're getting behind, you need some help.

Levulis: Shifting beyond the State of the State and the budget, the State Education Department has ordered school districts to remove all Indian mascots and associated Native American imagery by the end of the current school year. Does the State School Boards Association have any role in that process?

Schneider: We do. We are continually working with the State Education Department on many issues, we meet them on a monthly basis. But I do want to say one thing that SED is looking for a commitment by the end of this year as far as removing mascots that could be offensive to community members or students. Right now, we estimate 65 school districts in the state have Indian mascots. But again, they're looking for a commitment and a plan on how they would remove those mascots that have that deleterious effect on students and community members. You know, that will phase in over time. And one thing to remember on the mascot issue, this is a law or regulation from SED, the state education department that was put into place, I think, I'm pretty sure in 2001. A lot of our districts have already made those changes. There’s 65 left, and there are certain circumstances where they might not have to remove the mascot. We're working with SED to your point to make sure that they give us more clarity, and we can help out our member districts as they go through this process.

Levulis: Yeah, to that point, and those 65 districts that you mentioned, what are you hearing from them particularly, maybe as it pertains to some challenges, they're facing questions they might have, as they go through this?

Schneider: You know, and that's why I said we need clarity, greater clarity. So we can support these districts, certain symbols or mascots that have a Native American name might not be considered offensive, or, you know, impacting once again a child or community member. So clarity is the key. We know that we still have some questions we want to ask. But we're working with them. I mean, we've seen this play out in you know professional sports. We saw the Cleveland Guardians and the Washington Commanders as an example. This is an opportunity to, if there is that commitment, you have to make that commitment and you're going to change it could be a great student project, to have students and communities come together to work on renaming their mascot. And really it all lines up with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. And we have endorsed that since the beginning. There are a lot of different students in the school district system. And we want to make sure that they come there they have a comfortable environment and which will allow them to learn and be contributors to our society down the road.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
Related Content