Governor Hochul’s Budget Injects Common Sense into School Funding

By Blake G. Washington | January 31, 2024

Families across the state deserve to know the facts: simply put, no Governor in New York State history has invested more in education than Governor Hochul. Since taking office, Governor Hochul authored and enacted two budgets that provided over $5 billion in additional funding to the state’s public schools. As a result, hers is the first administration to fully fund the school foundation aid formula that was established over 15 years ago. The current Executive Budget proposal of $35.3 billion for public schools includes a new $825 million, providing the highest amount of funding to support our schools in state history. Between the additional State investment in the last three enacted budgets and the infusion of an additional $13 billion in extraordinary Federal aid, New York’s public schools have realized $20 billion in increased aid in just over three years’ time. The Governor fulfilled her promise and New York’s public schools have never been more well-resourced.

In fact, school districts are receiving resources faster than they can actually spend it. Exponential increases in this short period have fueled a rapid growth in district reserves, as evidenced by statewide fund balances that have recently grown by over $2.7 billion in just ­­three years, with statewide reserves now totaling $10.5 billion or 24 percent of districts’ budgets. While state law allows districts to maintain a modest level of reserves for unanticipated expenses, districts now hold nearly $1 billion in surplus reserves that are in excess of statutory limits.

The State’s school aid formula provides funding to districts based on several factors, including overall enrollment, student need, and district wealth. Investing in this manner ensures that the state of New York prioritizes its resources to the districts that need it most.

A separate measure in state law provides districts with at least as much Foundation Aid as was received in the previous year, without regard to district wealth, student need, or population change. Of course, as more districts are “held harmless” by this provision—thereby disregarding the Foundation Aid formula— fewer state resources are ultimately available to students in high-need school districts, or for districts that are growing in size.

New York invests more into educating our young people than any other state in the nation and by a wide margin. The State spends over $26,500 per pupil, which is 85% higher than the national average. At the same time as the State has spent more on educating our young people, our schools have experienced a near 10% enrollment decline since 2014. At a time when hard decisions are required to close a significant budget gap, these factors must be part of the equation.

At a time of record cash on hand for most districts, common sense dictates that the Executive Budget begin a conversation around how to address this difficult question in the long term, while at the same time allowing the State to continue its investments in the many other services that New York families rely upon. Taxpayers should expect no less.

After two years of unprecedented growth in state spending, the Executive Budget seeks to preserve the victories scored in Governor Hochul’s first two budgets, while at the same time aligning spending with revenue, thus placing our state’s fiscal plan on a path of sustainability. The proposed budget eliminates a $4.3 billion gap while still increasing overall investments by nearly 4.5 percent; it continues Governor Hochul‘s commitment to public safety and public health, expands access to mental health services, and provides the necessary resources to give our children a quality education.

Instead of asking the question, “how much more money are our schools getting?”; it should be “why do we have a formula that forces us to pay for students that don’t exist?” These are the hard conversations where the Governor is trying to inject common sense as we engage with districts, families, the legislature, and stakeholders in this upcoming budget. Only then can we find real, sustainable solutions that New York taxpayers rely on while also ensuring our teachers get the resources they need to educate the next generation of New Yorkers.

Blake G. Washington is the Budget Director for the State of New York, appointed by Governor Kathy Hochul. Mr. Washington is responsible for the development and management of the New York State budget and leads a team of public servants to administer the fiscal duties of the state, including economic and revenue forecasting, tax policy, fiscal planning, capital financing and management of the State’s debt portfolio.