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New York: Charters Scoop Up All the New Funding for Public Schools

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Advocates for fair funding for public schools in New York have pursued a remedy from the state for years. They finally won a big increase in the budget, but were shocked to discover that almost the entire increase in funding will be diverted to charter schools, which enroll 14% of the state’s students. Either coincidentally or not, Governor Hochul’s election campaign is heavily funded by charter school advocates from the financial industry.

February 2, 2022

In testimony on Governor Kathy Hochul’s FY23 Executive Budget, Education Law Center warned New York lawmakers that a proposed increase in state aid to charter schools in New York City will nearly offset the aid increase to district schools under lawmakers’ promised phase-in to reach full funding of the State’s Foundation Aid Formula.

Last year, after over a decade of resistance, New York elected officials committed to fully funding the Foundation Aid Formula enacted in 2007, with a three-year phase-in. After Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, Governor Hochul declared her intention to fulfill this commitment. Her administration also reached a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in NYSER v. State, a school funding lawsuit by public school parents in New York City and Schenectady, which conditions ultimate dismissal of the case on reaching full formula funding by 2024. The Governor’s proposed FY23 budget provides for a $1.6 billion increase in Foundation Aid, as required to meet the planned phase-in.

In testimony on the proposed FY23 State Budget, ELC underscored to legislators that the Governor’s proposed 4.7% increase in state aid to New York City charter schools will effectively negate the phase-in of formula funding to the City’s district schools. If the Governor’s proposed budget is enacted, New York City charter schools would receive an increase of $300 million this year, while the City’s district schools will be allocated an increase of approximately $345 million in Foundation Aid. Under state law, New York City is the only district that receives no transitional state aid to offset what the district is required to pay in charter school tuition.

“The math is simple and shocking,” said ELC senior attorney Wendy Lecker. “The increase in tuition payments to charter schools, which enroll just 14% of New York City students, will consume the entire increase in Foundation Aid intended for the almost one million City students enrolled in district schools. Even worse, the City is also mandated by state law to provide space or pay rent for charter schools.”

The ELC testimony also calls out the Executive Budget’s failure to make any additional investments in New York’s preschool program. In a May 2021 ruling, in the “Small Cities” school funding case, a New York Appellate Court recognized preschool as an essential element of a sound basic education guaranteed students under the State Constitution.

It is undisputed that high quality preschool provides a host of academic and life benefits, such as decreased placement in special education, decreased suspension rates, higher educational attainment, higher income, and decreased contact with the criminal justice system. Yet, tens of thousands of four-year-olds across New York lack access to any preschool classes, let alone a high-quality program. ELC is urging the Legislature to invest an additional $500 million to help ensure all four-year-olds access to this essential resource.

ELC also pressed the New York Legislature to maintain and strengthen the Contracts for Excellence (C4E) Law. This law was enacted in 2007 to ensure that struggling school districts receiving additional Foundation Aid would spend those funds on programs proven to improve student outcomes. As districts across the state finally receive these long-awaited increases in funding, it is crucial to have a strong framework for directing the funding to essential resources, including class size reduction in New York City district schools.

Sustained grassroots advocacy – coupled with strategic litigation – has moved New York to make important strides toward providing all students, including students of color, the essential resources required for a constitutional sound basic education. Lawmakers must revise Governor Hochul’s proposed budget to ensure the equitable distribution of increased funding, especially in New York City.

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