There will be plenty of fights over New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, but because this is an election year, the most aggressive battle may be waged over education funding. The reason is timing: During election years, one of the ways lawmakers deliver to their constituents is via education aid.

The fight will be despite the governor’s proposed $35.3 billion school aid package for Fiscal Year 2025, which includes a 2.1% increase, or a $507 million increase, in Foundation Aid, the primary school funding formula making it the highest level of state funding in the state’s history.

“With this year’s increase, we will have boosted Foundation Aid 33% from 2021 funding levels,” Hochul said during her address.

In a press release, the organization Advocates for Children of New York said the historic increases of recent years have enabled districts to launch or expand important programs which “we cannot afford to lose."

In an emailed statement to Capital Tonight, Robert Lowry, deputy director for advocacy, research and communications with the New York State Council of School Superintendents, questioned changes to save-harmless funding, which ensures no district receives less than they were provided the year before.

“The proposed budget would provide $420 million less in Foundation Aid than what the formula now in law would provide. The major component is a reduction in “save-harmless” funding, approximately 80% of which now goes to average or high need districts,” Lowry wrote. 

Lowry went on to say that while some districts have lost enrollment, most “have taken on helping students and families with a wider range of needs than academics alone. In rural areas, especially, schools are often the only agencies providing these services. Most districts are also straining to offer competitive pay to recruit or keep the employees they need.”

The Rural Schools Association of New York State both questioned whether the governor would update the Foundation Aid formula, which uses Census data from the year 2000, and attacked her proposal to eliminate the "Save Harmless" provision of the budget.

“Without immediate changes to the formula to recognize student mental health and other critically important needs, the governor’s proposal to eliminate the Save Harmless provision is a slap in the face to all rural communities and further reduces their children’s ability to make a decent life in our state,” Executive director David Little wrote.

The governor seemed prepared for the criticism she would face post-budget address.

“As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the last two years,” she said. “No one could have expected the extraordinary jumps in aid to recur annually.”

In response to her budget presentation, the fiscally conservative Empire Center applauded the governor’s financial restraint.

"Governor Hochul is telling it like it is: New York’s school aid and Medicaid spending are out of line with national norms and raising income taxes again isn’t the answer,” President & CEO Tim Hoefer said in an emailed statement. “This is the sort of honest talk New Yorkers — and their state lawmakers — needed to hear. In fact, more restraint will be needed to fix the long-term structural gaps.”