New York’s citizens, educators, and lawmakers are up in arms about Governor Kathy Hochul’s (D) plans to cut the budgets of 337 school districts in New York, over forty of them on Long Island. The repercussions of this major loss in funding will affect every student and every staff member at each school. To find out exactly what these cuts mean for our local students, The Messenger sat down with former high school educator Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook).

“It’s never been this bad,” says Assemblyman Smith. “Andrew Cuomo (D) always proposed less school aid, but never a cut. This literally cuts millions of dollars from 337 school districts across the state, both rural and suburban. So, this is devastating.”

Assemblyman Smith goes on to explain how a cut such as dramatic as this has not been seen in decades, if at all.

“The schools are always going to look [to cut] programs that are not mandated. So, right away, this would have to be arts programs, music programs, sports, and student clubs,” says Smith.

Programs where students can explore alternative interests and pursue creative endeavors outside of curricular academia are all at risk of diminishing. In addition to these possible cuts, Assemblyman Smith also mentions that academic programs can be cut as well.

“They can cut some of the college prep classes and Advanced Placement (AP) courses which are not mandated by New York State. A school district might have AP Biology, AP Chem, AP Physics, they might have multiple AP physics classes so they might reduce them. Like the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, these types of programs are not mandatory and those would be the programs that would unfortunately get cut, as well as career and technical education.”

Programs like AP, IB, and college prep courses allow accelerated high school students to pursue the next level of learning that they are ready for while still being in high school. These classes can be transferred to college or higher education for credits so that students aren’t forced to slow down their learning just because they haven’t graduated yet. Career and technical studies help students explore more specific areas of interests so they can get a better idea of what they may be interested in as a college major, trade, or career.

“Some school districts also have sports at the middle school level that could be reduced or diminished completely, which would be a shame. They could cut teams,” Smith continues.

Being on a team at a young age enhances confidence, responsibility, and sportsmanship for children. School-sanctioned sports, even at the middle school level, allows for students to be active, disciplined and dedicated in an area that they may excel in outside of academics.

“This is all in addition to mental health services that some schools provide. After COVID, a lot of districts hired on additional mental health resources to help students; those jobs could also be cut,” says Smith. “I am hoping we can continue to allow our schools to deliver these programs. I want my daughter to have options. If she wants to go into a career with technical education, I want that to be an option. If she wants to go to college, I would love for her to have AP classes available. If she wants to go into the military, I hope we have those programs available. If she wants to play sports, I hope she has the opportunity to pursue that. A lot of students across the state only get an opportunity to go to higher education through a sports scholarship, but you can’t get a sports scholarship if there are no sports at your high school. We have the best schools on Long Island, so if the Governor is looking for how to do education well, she should be looking at what we are doing, not cutting back funding.”

Governor Hochul was able to propose these cuts because she proposed to eliminate the “Hold Harmless” provision to the yearly executive budget.

“The Hold Harmless provision guaranteed that every year, school districts would get, at minimum, the same level of state aid as the previous year,” explains Smith.

This provision was in place so that schools can budget for and keep in place the basis of their programs that students depend on and progress in. If these programs are diminished, students will be left with empty time and “Study Hall” periods. Under the provision, budgets could be low-balled, but never actually cut.

“She also changed the inflation factor of the provision, which means instead of using the 3.18% that this year would have been, she used a rolling average of the last ten years. This includes 2014-2018 when inflation wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now. This also comes at a time where federal money from COVID-related learning loss is withdrawn,” says Smith.

After COVID drove schools on Long Island, and much of the country, to remote learning, students have struggled to keep up with their curricula. Multiple studies have seen students consistently testing lower in areas like math, reading, and science. Now that federal money has officially run out, learning loss will continue to rear its ugly head.

“It’s a bad situation. In my Assembly District alone, there are probably over one hundred teachers who would lose their jobs if these proposed budget cuts were to go through,” says Smith.

Assemblyman Smith serves as the top Republican on the Assembly Education Committee. Working opposite the Chairman in the majority party, Smith serves as the top member of the minority party.

“I am proud to serve in this role, but education is not a political topic. We all work very closely together to push forward education policy to make sure every student gets every opportunity they can have,” says Assemblyman Smith.

In this role, Smith plays a part in various aspects of education such as interviewing prospects for the New York Board of Regents which sets education policy and curriculum.

“Being a former educator and parent, it’s important to me. I want to make sure our kids have the best opportunities. We want to take politics out of the class whenever possible.”

Unlike in other states where the state legislature would be responsible for state spending, New York’s Governor takes on this role, making it a very powerful position, according to Smith. The state budget is due April 1, and in the time between the governor’s proposal and the due date, each house is allowed to present their One-House Budgets proposing how they would spend their money. Assemblyman Smith is using his position as the leading Republican of the State Assembly’s Education Committee to propose a $291 million increase.

“This would ensure full restoration of every cut plus a minimum 3% increase for every school in education funding for foundation aid. Our property taxpayers are paying a lot for schools, not just here but around the state, and we have to give them some relief. This is how we should be funding education, more from the taxes that our people contribute to the State government,” explains Assemblyman Smith.

“While the defense for these cuts is that a lot of school districts have money in reserve funds or have lost population is true in some cases, it’s not true in all,” says Smith. “However, the tricky part is as we are still recovering from the pandemic and also as the federal funds dry up for learning loss, there are so many new expenditures between inflation going up under President Biden and school districts taking in a lot of new students with the migrant crisis. New York City is taking on 35,000 new students just related to the migrant crisis. Teachers need to be trained in special education, in multiple languages, etc.”

Assemblyman Smith goes on to explain that the cost of teaching each individual student has gone up, which will make the cost of education fall on the shoulders of Long Island’s property taxpayers.

“How high do you want our taxes to be Kathy Hochul?” concludes Smith.

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Kaitlyn Foley is an Entertainment and Lifestyle Reporter and Staff Writer for the Messenger Papers. She is the weekly author of our Seasonal Column on Page 17. As a graduate of The Fashion Institute of Technology, Kaitlyn has a passion for fashion journalism and creative writing. In addition to writing, Kaitlyn also works as one of our Media and Website Associates.