A couple of months ago I signed up to testify before the hearings on Foundation Aid, the New York State share of education funding; on Tuesday I trekked to 250 Broadway to listen and testify before the committee.
The Senate Education Committee, under the leadership of Shelly Mayer, has held roundtables and hearings around the state; Tuesday’s hearing was the last of the series.
The legislature convenes in January and the governor gives his State of the State speech on January 8th and will probably lay out his budget priorities.
Now we get into the weeds; the governor has wide discretion in setting the budget; if you’re interested, and I hope you, are check out Silver v Pataki, a NYS Court of Appeals decision that sustained the governor’s right to set state budgets. Over the last few years the governor has set a 2% limit on increases in the state budget in addition to capping local school district budgets to 2% increases; school budgets are set by elected school boards and voted on in May (except in the Big Five – NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers).
If the governor has the final word on the total amount of the state budget why is the State Senate holding hearings?
There are three sources of state education funding: property taxes, federal Title 1 and Foundation Aid; the range in property taxes varies widely, extremely widely. New York State leads the nation in disparity of funding. Foundation Aid, the state share, is supposed to equalize the disparity in property taxes. It fails to do so, not even close, the disparity in funding is disgraceful.
In the 90’s, the Campaign for Fiscal (CFE) sued the state over the Foundation Aid formula, after years of litigation the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state sustained the decision of the lower court, the funding formula was inequitable.
The funding formula, Foundation Aid, was to be amended to meet the educational needs of children in the appellant’s districts.
Then came the Great Recession ….
The state struggled to meet expenditures as the nation struggled, slowly, the nation and the state recovered. As advocates argued that the state “owed” the litigants dollars under the CFE court decision the “governor called a years-old lawsuit and the state’s school funding formula ‘ghosts of the past and distractions from the present’”
Michael Rubell, the lead attorney in the original CFE lawsuit has filed another challenge to the state, the case will be heard before the trial court during the upcoming sessions (Read a summary of the arguments here).
Something has changed!
The 2018 election resulted Democrats seizing the Senate, not by a few votes, they now control almost 2/3 of the Senate. The new members won in Democrat primaries as well as defeating Republicans in the November elections. A combination of outspoken “old-timers,” (John Liu, Robert Jackson), young dynamic leaders (Alesandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar Brian Benjamin, Zellnor Myrie) as well as a committee chair who understands the “politics” of the legislature: a new coaliton.
I suspect the newer members will be aggressive within their caucus and aggressive in their dealings with the governor; a governor who at times sounds like the president.
The governor can simply ignore the pleas to reform education funding across the state, continue to claim the CFE decision is a dead issue, is a “ghost of the past.”
Or, he can accept the detailed plan submitted to the Education Committee by Michael Rubell to establish a process to revise school funding, or, follow the path of Maryland, called the Kirwan Commission which created an entirely new method of funding Maryland schools, or, follow the Indiana pathway; a new path to fund states that required a constitutional amendment.
I suspect there will be many new candidates running in June primaries against incumbent senior Democrats as well as in November running against established Republican candidates.
This will be an interesting legislative session.