By Kevin Toolan, President of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers; Chris Philp, President of the Kings Park Teachers Association; and Richard Haase, President of the Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association; on behalf of LongIslandTeachers.org representing over 100 Local Teachers Unions across Long Island.
Last week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled her 2023-24 budget for the state, which includes a record-breaking 10-percent increase in state aid to public schools. Of the $3.1 billion increase statewide, Long Island schools will realize an unprecedented increase in aid of approximately $775 million – and this comes on top of healthy aid increases in the previous two budget cycles.
The Governor’s proposed budget represents a truly historic investment in the intellectual infrastructure that is our public school system on Long Island.
This long overdue support package will help financially position our 121 local school districts throughout Long Island to meet the challenges of our times and our students’ educational and emotional needs.
Most significantly, the aid increase is a hopeful signal of a long-term shift in thinking in Albany – a recognition that the state was failing to adequately support school districts for far too long.
New York State has a long and unfortunate history of underfunding its public schools. For decades, Albany defied a court-ordered increase in Foundation Aid – and further cut school funding at that time through mechanisms such as GEA (Gap Elimination Aid). Districts found themselves tens of millions of dollars short of funding and were forced to burden their residents with dramatic property tax increases to pay for educational programs. With the implementation of the property tax cap beginning in 2012, school districts were financially hamstrung further in trying to meet the needs of students.
Through the advocacy and awareness-raising of educators across the state, from the New York State United Teachers down to local teacher unions, advances have been made recently to ensure Albany is meeting its constitutional responsibility for funding education. GEA was eliminated in 2016 and, as noted, the past few budget cycles have seen healthier increases in aid packages, highlighted by this year’s proposed 10-percent increase.
Governor Hochul’s promise could not have come at a more critical time as districts across Long Island work to meet the rising costs due to inflation, supply chain issues, and oil prices without sacrificing educational programs in the classroom.
A few of the many potential benefits from the substantially increased state aid for schools include: · Creating a plan to upgrade technological infrastructure after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed shortcomings and inequalities in many communities;
· Increasing mental health and wellness programs to support the emotional and social needs of students;
· Addressing learning loss and closing the achievement gap through high-impact tutoring and support programs;
· Enhancing career and technical educational offerings; and
· Expansion of Universal Pre-K programs.
Our highest priority is preparing our students for success in the world, whether that means moving on to higher education or applying their knowledge, training, and skills in the workforce. That success begins with a high school diploma.
Despite the multi-year challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school graduation rates on Long Island far exceed the national average (92.6-percent in 2022 versus 88.6-percent) and fall high on statewide averages of 74- to 94-percent. We can only expect these rates to climb with the added support of state aid.
Over the past decade, our school districts on Long Island have been fortunate to enjoy the community’s overwhelming support as they have navigated annual school budgets through tax cap requirements. Budgets have been approved by the vast majority of voters every year, and the proposed increase in state aid from Albany will help districts across the Island maintain the support of their communities.
Local and statewide educator organizations have been waging a 30-year battle in Albany for adequate state funding for schools. The Governor’s proposed state aid package marks significant and substantial progress in that battle, as it recognizes the long-standing inequity in state funding.
Increased state aid is an investment in our children, our communities, and the future health of Long Island’s public school system. It is worthy of enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle as the State Budget process moves ahead this spring.