New York schools in upstate cities like Albany, Schenectady and Rochester are facing layoffs and deep spending reductions as millions of dollars in state aid is being withheld.
Concerns are being raised from education advocates and state lawmakers is coming from the right and the left as a major aftershock of the pandemic -- the virtual evaporation of tax revenue -- is starting to take its toll.
"Our districts aren't full of a lot of fluff already to begin with," said Jasmine Gripper, the executive director of the progressive Alliance for Quality Education. "So we're cutting the meat and potatoes of education. We're cutting the things our kids absolutely need and are essential for their growtth and development."
And sharing her alarm is Republican state Sen. Fred Akshar.
"This issue is not unique to a school district in Brooklyn or in Binghamton or in Buffalo," Akshar said. "I think every school district is grappling with this issue."
Schools are already facing the very real challenge of providing either in-classroom instruction, remote learning or a mix of both in the coming days to their students. That's meant improving cleanliness and air filtration in schools or buying personal protection equipment -- more added costs for districts.
The reductions could have a long-lasting effect. In Albany, officials may cut 222 jobs. In Schenectady, the budget is facing a $30 million shortfall. Akshar says it's small, rural districts that could be hit especially hard.
"For many students the time they spend at school is the only sense of normalcy that they get," he said. "The only sense of structure that they get. The only real nutrition is what they get when they are at school."
But how to fix the problem? Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for billions of dollars in aid from the federal government. So far, another stimulus package has stalled in part over the issue of sending aid to states.
Jasmine Gripper wants to increase taxes on the wealthiest in New York, a proposal Cuomo has not embraced on the state level.
"Tax the ultra wealthy who have been doing well in this pandemic," Gripper said. "Ask them to pay a little bit more to get the state of New York through this recession and through this crisis."
Akshar disagrees. He wants the state to halt spending on economic development projects that have had little success in creating jobs and redirect that money to schools.
"Increasing taxes, whether it be property taxes or income taxes on high earners or middle class earners," Akshar said, "that's something I've not been willing to jump on."