It has been a tough 12 months for students, parents, and teachers as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic set in across New York. Schools were closed, forced to come up with remote learning plans on the fly, and then adopt in many places a hybrid model.
Now state lawmakers are inching toward a budget agreement that could boost direct aid by $4.2 billion over the next several years. It's a goal that's been long sought by education advocates and will come on top of federal relief approved this month by Congress.
As envisioned by lawmakers that added spending will funded in large part by a tax increase on wealthy New Yorkers and the financial industry.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta says the money will have a major impact.
"Let's not supplant the state funding with the federal money, so that's what we're going to keep saying throughout this budget process," Pallotta said Wednesday in an interview.
But what does this mean for students, parents and teachers? In the coming months, it could lead to a full reopening of schools by the fall -- but the teacher’s union wants testing and other safeguards in place.
"That's the best place for teachers and students to be is in classroom," Pallotta said. "We're just saying let's make it the safest place to be and that takes time and that takes money."
Dave Albert of the New York State School Boards Association agrees, though cautions factors like COVID variants could be at play.
"I do think there is a will to open up full time, back to normal in the fall," said Albert, the chief communications and marketing officer for the group. "I'm noting there are colleges and universities that are starting to do that."
And as schools reopen, they will likely face new challenges, like fulfilling the mental health needs facing students and teachers alike.
"They've really lost a significant amount of time with their peers, so there's going to be consequences of that," Albert said.
NYSUT's Pallotta says those resources will require funding, too.
"What most districts were crying out of for last year was social workers, mental health services, the basics of keeping schools functioning when there are so many needs," he said. "That was last year, imagine the needs now this year."