Andrew Pallotta: Fully Fund NYS Schools | WAMC

Andrew Pallotta: Fully Fund NYS Schools

Dec 27, 2019

Students don’t get a do-over when it comes to their education. They only have one chance to prepare for future success -- whether that means entering college or the work force.

That’s why every student in New York deserves the opportunity to go to a public school with access to AP courses, music and other enrichment opportunities.  And that’s why we must invest in public education. 

Unfortunately, for nearly a decade, New York State has not fully funded school districts. They created what we call a Foundation Aid Formula, which is supposed to calculate how much funding goes to each school district, but they’ve consistently not delivered those funding levels.

We’re not talking about small change here.  From Long Island to Buffalo, New York State owes roughly 400 school districts more than $3.4 billion. Of that amount, 68 percent, or $2.3 billion, is owed to schools defined by the State Education Department as high-need.

This has got to stop.

Because NYSUT fights for our members and the people they serve, we testified before the State Senate and called on lawmakers to fully fund our schools — because we’re fed up with waiting for New York State to meet its obligations.

That $3.4 billion is the difference between students having wrap-around services to help them succeed — and to ensuring that our children are college and career ready — and to districts struggling just to provide a sound, basic education.

And that shortfall is causing a lot of pain.

In Yonkers, where schools are owed $38 million, there’s only one social worker for every 1,900 students. And in Buffalo, which is owed $76 million in Foundation Aid, there’s insufficient staffing… students with disabilities face long delays for services … and music and art classes are in short supply. In fact, the Buffalo Teachers Federation plans to file suit against the district over the lack of art and music classes. 

Recent Foundation Aid increases have barely made a dent in what districts are owed. If New York State continues paying down the debt at the current rate, we estimate it will take 25 years to fully fund districts.

That’s 25 years that New York State students don’t have to wait. And 25 years that we’re not willing to sit by without fighting back on behalf of parents, students and educators in every community in this State.

Because the longer we wait, the more the need grows.

Just think what our school districts could do if they had the funding they’re owed?

The Rochester City School District is facing a $30 million dollar budget gap. It’s preparing to eliminate nearly 200 positions in January, a massive, mid-year disruption for nearly 30,000 students.

New York State owes Rochester $85 million in Foundation Aid.  If they had that funding, they wouldn’t have that budget gap.

At the end of the day, it’s about justice for our students. That’s why NYSUT will continue to fight on behalf of our members until schools get the education dollars they deserve.

Because regardless of where they live, or how much money their family makes, every student deserves access to a sound, basic education.

It’s time for New York State to do the right thing and to fully fund our schools.

Students deserve nothing less.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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