School districts must have figured Christmas came early when they took a peek into the stocking and pulled out unexpected state aid.
The problem with shiny presents is that the novelty quickly wears off, and so might this quick shot of aid. What also remains undetermined this early in the new budget year is exactly how this help for schools fits into the overall puzzle of a state budget that always threatens to grow too quickly.
Under an agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Senate and Assembly, schools across the state will receive an increase of 4.7 percent, or nearly $1 billion in aid to education.
The news warmed the hearts of superintendents and administrators grappling with difficult realities that involved programs and people. For four years, New York school districts have been pounded by the problems of the state economy, as reflected in the state’s revenues.
As reported, the agreement reallocates some funding the governor had identified for education and adds more to that amount. It means that nearly all districts in the Erie and Niagara region will get increases. East Aurora is the exception in getting less money than last year, but the decrease is less than the governor’s proposal released in January. That is partly because the district is not receiving aid for converting to full-day kindergarten that it received last year.
From Buffalo to Sloan to Wilson to Orchard Park, more money is coming through the door and it will surely be spent before it arrives. Undoubtedly, needs in these districts outweigh wants. As Niagara Wheatfield’s Interim Superintendent James Knowles told a reporter, the district has cut 91 positions in the last two years and is running out of places to look for money. Niagara Wheatfield had been facing a $1.4 million shortfall.
But whether the money will mean increases in aid to pay unexpected increases in special education or extra money to pay unexpected increases to health insurance costs in Orchard Park, or set the district on the road to be able to continue its current programs and partially fund the cost of a girls hockey coach, any money comes as a bit of a reprieve. But it’s a short one.
School district funding is unlikely to return to the funding levels of years ago, and this little bit of money definitely is far from what would be needed to get even with what has been lost.
Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, was quick to point out that even with an increase of more than 4 percent, schools are not back to the high aid mark. And some of the extra money does come from the $203 million fiscal stabilization fund and money for education reform initiatives the governor proposed. In other words, this might be a one-time occurrence.
But even a little bit goes a long way for cash-strapped school districts.