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Infusion of state, federal aid gives schools an unprecedented funding boost

Infusion of state, federal aid gives schools an unprecedented funding boost

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School aid

School districts will receive an unprecedented amount of aid next year to help with the costs related to Covid-19, as well as school expenses.

Record state aid and an infusion of federal Covid-19 relief money have given schools in New York an unprecedented amount of funding in the next school year.

“I think most districts will be pleased,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

The state budget allocates $29.5 billion to schools, an increase of $3 billion, or 11.3%. The increase is fueled by a 7% jump in foundation aid, the type of funds school districts use to operate schools.

And the budget includes $13 billion in federal relief money for schools to use over several years for things such as reopening for in-person instruction, dealing with learning loss, and responding to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students due to the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Federal funding also will be used to expand prekindergarten.

“It certainly is a lot easier to consider all the needs and possibilities with the influx of federal money than it ever would be if we didn’t have it,” said Hamburg Supervisor Michael Cornell, who also is president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association.

Included in the federal funding is $500 million for non-public schools, and reimbursement for transportation costs incurred in spring 2020 when districts delivered meals and instructional materials to children when schools closed for the pandemic.

“We’re in a vastly better position than we would have dared to hope for last summer or fall when we were faced with the prospect of 20% reductions in state aid for the current year and not knowing what may be in store for future years,” Lowry said.

School districts not only benefited from an infusion of federal stimulus money; they did not see their aid reduced in equal amounts by the state, as done in prior rounds of Covid-19 relief funding. Foundation aid is up by $1.4 billion.

"It's the largest increase in school aid in a generation," said state Sen. Sean M. Ryan.

Increasing the foundation aid next year is the start of fulfilling a commitment first made in 2007, when the state promised to phase in billions more dollars in aid and rely on a formula that distributes it more equitably to school districts. When the Great Recession hit, the state was never able to fully fund those financial promises and is now trying to make good.

Ryan said the districts owed the most money from the foundation aid formula were the ones that got the most money this year.

School districts are now on track to receive what was fully promised within three years, a goal that has been elusive for far too long, said Robert Schneider, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

“Overall, we are elated by the emphasis our state leaders have placed on enhancing opportunity and support for all students,” Schneider said in a prepared statement. “We believe this will place our districts in a better position to make a vigorous recovery in the months and years ahead.”

There is some concern about the state’s ability to continue the pace of phasing in more aid.

“Is the state going to be able to commit to that level of funding in perpetuity?” asked Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.

State aid, not including aid that reimburses districts for building projects, would go up 39% for Cheektowaga; 31% for Amherst; 29% for Williamsville; 23% for East Aurora; 19% for Maryvale and Cleveland Hill; 16% for Lancaster; and 15% for Sweet Home and Lackawanna, according to state figures.

“That would be huge in its own right,” Lowry said, “and then on top of that we have the federal money.”

Buffalo Public Schools would receive the most in Western New York in federal funding, with $289.8 million, which includes two rounds of stimulus funds. Ken-Ton would receive $18.3 million; Lackawanna, $17.3 million; Williamsville, $13.7 million; West Seneca, $13.6 million; and $9 million for Lancaster, Frontier and Sweet Home.

The federal funding can be used over the next few years – at least until the 2023-24 school year – for districts to pay for costs that are immediate needs and “non-recurring,” Lowry said.

But districts still need to find out the details on how it can be spent, when it can be spent and how a district acquires funding, Timbs said.

“Which makes it unbelievably confusing,” Timbs said. “There’s a lot to do in a very short period of time.”

“That could be expanded summer school for this year and next, perhaps doing things to improve technology, improve ventilation in school buildings, perhaps pay a community-based organization to assist with student mental-health issues,” Lowry said. “I don’t think you could use the federal money to say, ‘We’re going to cut our taxes.’ ”

School districts will be required to develop a plan by July 1 on how they expect to use the federal money so the public can provide comment, Lowry said.

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