Three years ago, Cynthia Nixon launched an unlikely bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in part over a push to boost direct aid for schools in New York's budget.
Nixon did not win. But the idea ultimately did.
State lawmakers are on the verge of approving a budget that increases direct aid to schools by $1.4 billion over the next several years to more than $4 billion once fully phased in.
The move will be funded in large part with tax increases on upper income earners and businesses, and expanding the size of the state budget in the process when taking federal aid into consideration, expected to clock in around $200 billion.
Fiscal watchdogs have raised concerns with the impact of the new taxes and spending on a nascent economic recovery in the state that could lead to an exodus of the wealthy. New York draws much of its revenue from a small number of very rich people, who are increasingly mobile amid the pandemic.
"We will now have a budget that is more than the state of Florida and the state of Texas combined," said Republican Assemblyman Ed Ra of Long Island.
But for the education advocacy campaign that has built around the effort to increase aid to schools, the 2021 budget is one of the more consequential spending plans the state will have produced in more than a decade.
"Today, the children of our state won a crucial victory as New York State made a historic commitment to fully fund Foundation Aid for our public schools," said Jasmine Gripper, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "Generations of parents, community leaders and students across New York state, year after year, have led the advocacy to hold New York to the promise of a sound, basic education for every child. Parents, educators and students put their bodies and hearts into this difficult, but necessary fight. This victory shows the power of the people, the power of never giving up, the power of ‘we,’ and it belongs to all of us."
Education is second only to health care in the state budget in terms of cost and a complex ecosystem of lobbying and advocacy backed by teachers unions have ardent allies in the state legislature.
Cuomo during his time in office has countered the power of the teachers unions by backing efforts to strengthen charter schools in the state and argued the spending for schools did little to produce better outcomes. That counterweight lasted only so long.
At the same time, advocates have argued the state's big spending on schools doesn't translate equally across the board to wealthier districts that have broader tax bases.
“The school aid in this year’s state budget has the potential to change the experiences and opportunities our children have in their public schools for years to come," Gripper said. "This has been a long fight, far too long for the tens of thousands of students who were born, educated and grew into adults while waiting for the funding and resources that should never have been denied them. This was always about children and what they need."