Local school district officials are keeping a watchful eye on federal and state initiatives as the New Year rolls in.
Funding is going to be a top priority, according to Sherry Johnson, the Executive Director of Monroe County School Boards Association. She says funding is a major issue, particularly for programs and initiatives meant to balance out inequalities around the state.
“It’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “We understand the state has some revenue issues of their own on top of any impact from the federal government.”
Johnson is referring to a major change in the new federal tax law that limits how much taxpayers can claim from their local and state taxes. A cap on the federal tax deduction could impact state funding for education, Johnson said, or get people to leave the state altogether for states with lower taxes, taking their tax revenue with them.
“We’re concerned about the tax reform bill that got passed and the president will be signing and the impact that that will have on the state which then will have impacts on public education funding,” she said.
Johnson said she’s hoping to see education become more of a priority for Governor Andrew Cuomo, particularly, again, for funding.
“The foundation aid formula really needs to be looked at and there needs to be some solutions on how to make the funding sustainable and equitable,” Johnson said.
The foundation aid formula is one of those initiatives impacted by funding. The goal of the formula is to balance the inequalities among school districts around the state. Johnson said students in higher-need districts are often outperformed by students in wealthier districts. Foundation aid would provide funding for these higher-need districts to help them compete.
Johnson also said mandates like Universal Pre-K seem like good moves, but without funding can be a burden on some districts. She says in Monroe County, most districts offer full-day kindergarten but have little funding to pay for the cost. Cuomo backed Universal Pre-Kindergarten last year but Johnson says more money is needed to keep students in full-day programs the next year as well.
“Now we’re at a sustainability level where the state controls the state aid through the frozen foundation aid formula. The state controls our ability to raise revenue through the tax cap, so basically the Board of Education and School District leadership have their hands tied in so many ways," she said.
Johnson said she's looking forward to hearing Cuomo's upcoming State of the State address and while she understands he is focused on improving the state's business climate she said most employees will come with families, so education will be important to future New Yorkers as well.
Cuomo's 2018 State of the State airs January 3 at 1:00 p.m. It will be broadcast on WXXI-TV and radio, and you can listen to it online at wxxinews.org.