A coalition of education groups is calling for a $2 billion aid increase in the next state budget.
The New York State Educational Conference Board outlined why the hefty aid bump is necessary in a report released Monday. According to the organization, at least $1.5 billion in additional state support will be required to help schools cover the cost of services, employee health care benefits, salaries and pensions.
The group also recommended an additional $500 million to address various education needs, such as professional development programs, English as a Second Language programs and help for struggling schools.
John Yagielski, chairman of the Educational Conference Board, acknowledged the state is facing fiscal challenges. Projections indicate the state will need to address a $4.4 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.
"However, state policymakers need to know what level of funding is needed to maintain current educational programs and services in our public schools and to foster student success," Yagielski said. "This report represents our best effort to identify the appropriate state education aid level for the 2018-19 school year."
The last time there was a large budget deficit, schools didn't fare well in the budget. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders negotiated the final 2011-12 state budget, they needed to tackle a $10 billion deficit. One way they erased that gap was by a $1.3 billion school aid reduction.
There have been state aid increases in past years since that budget was adopted. But schools also have to work within the constraints of a property tax cap, which makes it difficult to raise additional revenue to support services.
The Educational Conference Board recommended altering the state-imposed cap to exclude the consumer price index as a factor. In its current form, the cap is 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. But the organization contends the consumer price index "is not a reliable indicator of the costs of education."
"As they develop budgets, school leaders must plan for the year ahead based on programs that will serve students, regulations, actual cost drivers and community expectations," the group wrote in its report. "Instead, the CPI measures costs in the past. The tax cap should be amended to remove the variability of CPI and provide schools with an allowable levy growth of at least 2 percent each year."
Another issue the Educational Conference Board hopes state leaders will address in 2018 is the foundation aid formula. State foundation aid is the base funding provided for school services.
The state owes $4.2 billion in foundation aid to school districts, according to the board. The organization recommended establishing a plan to provide the $4.2 billion in aid over a three-year period. They also support updating several of the factors the formula uses to determine aid, including disabilities, enrollment growth, local fiscal capacity and poverty.