Nassau school districts face decline in state education funds

Nassau school districts face decline in state education funds
Gov. Kathy Hochul. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

North Shore school districts are seeing drops in foundation aid for the first time since the state funding was introduced in 2007-2008, with many calling the governor’s proposal showing sweeping increases in state aid misleading as districts face budget challenges.

The New York State Assembly has now proposed a budget countering the governor’s that reinstates the lost foundation aid sought by local school districts.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2025 budget proposal includes $35.3 billion in state school aid. This is an increase of $825 million from the prior budget, or a rise of 2.4%.

The $825 million proposed increase from budget to budget encompasses a ​​$507 million increase for Foundation Aid – the state’s main education operating aid formula that is based on equity. The remaining $318 million increase is attributed to all other school aid programs.

The 2025 budget proposal comes in the wake of the 2024 budget’s $3.1 billion increase in school aid – a historic rise in the state that amounted to a 10% increase from the prior budget.

New York State spends the most per pupil in the country. State aid spending per pupil has also continuously risen over the years, only seeing a dip in 2021, according to the Empire Center, with spending projected to continue increasing over the next four years.

Empire Center calculated that 185 New York districts, about a quarter, were in the top 5% for spending per pupil nationally. A majority of districts were in the top 10%.

Under Hochul’s proposal, a majority of North Shore schools are proposed to receive an increase in state aid.

But school districts have called the governor’s proposed school aid increase misleading, with districts seeing drops in their foundation aid for the first time and funds allocated to them that they are unable to use.

Foundation aid began as the state’s equity-based funding source for school districts, intended to alleviate disparities between districts. The New York State aid formula for schools is based on factors that evaluate enrollment, student need and district wealth.

Foundation aid was implemented in the 2007-2008 school year, with different state aid offerings provided before. But hold harmless initiatives have been in place for state aid funding since 1976, Manhasset Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Sam Gergis said.

The state’s foundation aid has historically included a hold harmless protocol, which is a standard that ensures school districts either receive the same or more foundation aid from year to year regardless of enrollment.

But the protocol would be removed from this budget under Hochul’s proposal, which the state budget director said would free up funds for high-need districts at a time when many school districts are flush with surplus funds as enrollment drops.

​​An op-ed written by state Division of Budget Director Blake Washington applauded the governor’s investment in schools and says her funding of schools is unprecedented.

“Instead of asking the question, ‘how much more money are our schools getting?’ it should be ‘why do we have a formula that forces us to pay for students that don’t exist?’” Washington wrote. “These are the hard conversations where the governor is trying to inject common sense as we engage with districts, families, the Legislature, and stakeholders in this upcoming budget. Only then can we find real, sustainable solutions that New York taxpayers rely on while also ensuring our teachers get the resources they need to educate the next generation of New Yorkers.”

Washington said the hold harmless initiative disregards district wealth, student needs or population changes and opposes the foundation aid formula as it limits state resources for high-need or growing school districts.

Gergis said the removal of hold harmless was a shock to the Manhasset school district as they received no prior indication that the proposal would occur.

He said the state has guaranteed foundation aid for decades, implementing a hold harmless protocol that ensures districts receive the same amount or more in foundation aid from year to year. The removal of this guarantee, Gergis said, is what has blindsided the district.

The Manhasset School District is proposed to receive a 20.74% drop in its foundation aid from the prior school year, amounting to $629,105 less in the allocated state funds.

Gergis said this is a “significant funding limitation” for the district which could affect areas throughout its 2024-2025 budget.

Amid the drops in foundation aid, the Manhasset School District has proposed cuts, including the removal of 14.45 full-time equivalent positions.

While Gergis acknowledged that Manhasset is deemed a more affluent community, the district still warrants receiving comparable amounts of foundation aid from prior years as it is the state’s primary funding source for school districts. He added that despite the general affluence in the school district, it still services low-income families and students.

“That state aid does leverage,” Gergis said. “It helps us run our programs and it’s also directed towards equitable distribution for all kids because not every kid or family in Manhasset is really wealthy.”

Other school districts are also seeing a drop in their foundation aid, including Great Neck, which is proposed to receive a $27,497 reduction.

Calls for preserving hold harmless have been made by many other school districts, including Roslyn, which is proposed to receive the highest increase of state aid on the North Shore.

The district is proposed to receive an increase of $255,548 in its foundation aid.

“Just enrollment alone is going to eat that up,” Roslyn’s assistant superintendent for Business and Administration, Susan Warren, said. “Enrollment is increasing significantly.”

The Roslyn School District has seen an increase of 2.8% in its enrollment from the 2012-2013 school year to 2022-2023.

But also included in each district’s state aid proposal is a grant for universal pre-K programs, yet for school districts that don’t operate a pre-K program like Manhasset these funds are virtually unavailable to them.

For Manhasset and other districts without a pre-K program, Gergis said this omits nearly $1 million from its granted state aid proposal.

The net losses for the Manhasset district in total state aid, Manhasset Superintendent Gaurav Passi said, amount to $511,000 – a 9.8% decrease. This counters what the state said Manhasset would receive, which amounted to an 8.43% increase in state aid.

The New York State Assembly proposed its own state budget on March 12 that countered the governor’s school funding proposal and addressed the concerns from school districts heard throughout Long Island.

The assembly’s proposal increases foundation aid by $818.6 million from the governor’s proposal. This would constitute a $1.3 billion increase from the current school year.

“Reinstating the ‘hold harmless’ provision and rejecting the proposed inflationary factor changes to ensure that our school districts do not receive less Foundation Aid than they did the prior year was my top priority,” state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti said. “After three years of historic investments in state funding for our school districts, we should not settle for anything less for our children’s education.”

Also included in the Assembly’s budget proposal is an allocation of $125 million for universal pre-K and an additional $120 million for free school lunches.

“As we continue budget negotiations in Albany, I’m optimistic that the final budget will support our schools and ensure that families have the resources they need to thrive,” Sillitti said.

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