Gov. Kathy Hochul is proposing a $35.3 billion school aid package in her executive budget. That’s a 2.4% increase over last year, but there are fears that despite increases to Foundation Aid, as well as aid tied to expenses, education funding could be a major issue of contention this session. 

A provision known as "Save Harmless"could take center stage. It ensures that districts don’t see a decrease in Foundation Aid funding compared to the previous year, but as enrollment decreases in many districts, that practice is being called into question. 

Bob Lowery, deputy director at the New York state Council of School Superintendents, praised Hochul’s administration for investments in this year’s budget that would tackle mental health in schools, as well as a commitment to fully funding Foundation Aid, but questioned altering Foundation Aid.

“We are concerned, however, that proposed changes in Foundation Aid would diminish one of the governor’s signature accomplishments, achieving full funding,” he said.

Hochul made it clear in her budget address that her proposal increases Foundation Aid funding by 2.1% compared to a 12.8% increase last year. She emphasized that the steep increases in education funding over the past few budget cycles were a response to what she called years of disinvestment.

“There should be acknowledgment that we have had to jump-start investments to make up for lost time in health care, education and mental health but there was never an expectation that those increases would be sustained at those levels,” she said.

Budget Director Blake Washington said the changes to the Save Harmless provision would help level the playing field, taking into account drops in enrollment and shifting that money to districts with higher needs, while locking in the formula’s inflation factor at 2.4%. The budget also stipulates a wealth-based “transition adjustment” for districts receiving in excess of their full funding targets under the formula.

“As more and more schools fall into the hold harmless bucket, if you have a finite amount of resources in a given year, you have less and less resources for schools that are growing and have a higher need,” Washington said.

Declining to address specifics, state Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay encouraged directing aid where it is needed the most

“More money toward low-wealth districts, less money to high-wealth districts,” he said. “I think there are things we can do that wouldn’t require us to increase education funding at the levels we have in recent years.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also declined to address the change specifically.

“Foundation Aid is something that is really important to us but I don’t know where she is going until l see what the details are,” he said.

Lowry expressed concern that where the governor is “going” doesn’t take into account that districts that have lost population have gained other responsibilities, like responding to the child care crisis and food assistance.

“Some districts have experienced declines in enrollment,” he said. “All districts are telling us ‘we are doing so much to help students and families with issues beyond academics’”

Washington emphasized that no district would be receiving less than what the Foundation Aid formula stipulates, it would just regulate districts that are in excess of their result.