Education Issues to Watch Out for in Albany: School Finance, Mental Health, Mayoral Control

As districts continue to recover from the academic and social-emotional impacts of the pandemic, New York State legislators will be pressured to address several issues facing schools during the new legislative session.

Inflation has raised the cost to complete the long-awaited process of comprehensive financing of Foundation Aid, the main formula for school aid in the state. As the country faces the risk of a recession, advocates worry whether lawmakers will make good on their promise to finish funding the formula.

Advocates also say they will push for solutions to problems that have become more pressing during the pandemic, including recruitment challenges Y student Mental Health, while others will continue to push for years for the state to increase the cap on charter schools.

Here are some of the educational topics that may come up in the new legislative session, which begins on Wednesday:

Inflation adds pressure to the cost of financing schools

Last year, state legislators promised to spend billions of dollars more to fully fund Foundation Aid, which represents the majority of the financial support that school districts receive from the state. They agreed to fund the formula for three years, with the final addition scheduled for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

However, high inflation rates have pushed the projected cost for the final addition of the money from an increase of $1.9 billion to around $2.7 billion.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who agreed to comply with the formula last year as part of a legal settlement, declined to say whether she will include this larger final payment in next year’s budget. Advocates and lawmakers alike say they are concerned, but have yet to hear anyone renege on Hochul’s promise.

“There is a very high level of commitment from my fellow legislators to see that this pledge of Foundation Aid is fully followed through and fulfilled,” said Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat who oversees the education committee for the New York City Senate. . “It should also be a self-imposed mandate from the governor.”

Separately, state policymakers are also asks for $1 million to hire researchers who will review and create models to update the 15-year-old Foundation Aid formula. State officials and advocates say the formula needs updating because it has outdated measures, such as the student poverty estimate, which is currently based in part on data from the 2000 census.

“Let’s get expert recommendations to make it more equitable,” said Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

Will Hochul try to lift the cap on charter schools?

One question is whether the governor will actively seek to lift the limit on how many charter schools can open in New York. After silence on the issue during the election campaign, Hochul said supported raising the cap when asked about it during a gubernatorial debate with Republican opponent Lee Zeldin.

Under the cap, 460 charter schools can operate in New York, including 290 in New York City, which was reached in 2019. Overall, enrollment has increased in the New York City charter sector, while enrollment has decreased in traditional public schools. But The image is more complicated: Nearly 60% of individual charter schools have enrolled fewer students during the pandemic.

Hochul’s office declined to say whether he would push to lift the cap this year. Some charter school advocates, who have lobbied him for years, hope so.

In a statement after the election, James Merriman, executive director of the New York City Charter Center, said the organization hoped to “support your efforts to lift the cap.”

hochul campaign received at least $70,000 in campaign donations through two pro-charter political action committees. However, it also received more than $186,000 in city, state and national teachers unions, which generally oppose charter school expansion.

Liu said he doesn’t expect her to raise the issue, noting that she simply answered “yes” to the debate question of whether she supports lifting the cap, which is different from actively pursuing the issue.

Even if it does, it’s not likely to find significant support in the legislature, as the issue hasn’t gained traction in recent years.

Schools continue to struggle with recruitment and student mental health

Some advocates hope for solutions to the hiring challenges many schools face.

Bob Lowry, deputy director of advocacy and communication for the state’s Council of School Superintendents, said it’s been one of the biggest issues school leaders have reported to his organization during the pandemic. The The issue came up during a recent state Assembly hearing. and it has also affected districts at the national level.

“We hear from districts, ‘We’d like to hire more mental health professionals to help, but we can’t find people,’” Lowry said.

Lawmakers have introduced a tax incentive for school employees as a way to attract people to school districts, reported NY1. Lowry pointed to “helpful steps” that have already been taken, such as the state education department end the controversial edTPA certification exam previously required of New York teaching candidates. On the other hand, Hochul successfully proposed lifting the cap on how much retired school employees could earn without losing their pensions if they returned to school, but Lowry noted that the law is only in effect for this school year.

“Its a big problem, [we’re] I’m not entirely sure what to do about it, but continuing the exemption for retirees to work without losing pension benefits is a simple and straightforward step,” Lowry said.

School leaders also continue to report major challenges in dealing with student mental health, Lowry said, and look forward to more targeted funding to address those concerns.

Federal aid money likely helped districts address some of these issues, but these funds will be canceled next year. Increases in Foundation Aid may also help. Last year’s budget included $100 million over two years that would be available to school districts as grants to address mental health issues in schools. State officials plan to award those funds through a competitive process to be launched this year, according to a spokesperson for the state education department.

“We don’t see mental health problems going down anytime soon,” Lowry said. “We think there will be a need for continued, targeted funding for schools to help with mental health issues.”

State seeks to compare New York mayoral control with other districts

Last legislative session, legislators expanded New York City mayor’s school control system — where the mayor effectively has control over policy decisions instead of a school board — for another two years.

This year, Liu said lawmakers will start to look at how other school governance systems are working across the country and compare it to “20 years of [mayoral] control the experience in New York City and see how best to move schools forward.”

Liu declined to share any further details, including whether there would be public hearings or some kind of formal review. But his comments indicate lawmakers are interested in possible changes to the city’s governance system when they must decide again in 2024 whether to extend mayoral control.

His decision this year to extend mayoral control by two years, half of what Mayor Eric Adams and Hochul requested, came with tweaks aimed at adding more parent representation to the system.

“This year, we have a little more room to breathe,” Liu said.

Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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