By Keshia Clukey, Politico New York
ALBANY - During its meeting Monday, the state Board of Regents is slated to discuss recommended changes to the state's school aid formula, changes intended to provide more equitable funding and relief, particularly for districts in high-poverty areas.
"This is a big step; they are going on record," Statewide School Finance Consortium executive director Rick Timbs told POLITICO New York. "This is what we've needed from the Board of Regents for a long time, making substantive recommendations for the betterment of the Foundation Aid formula so that schools can have a better chance of improving student performance based on resources they can get from the state."
The Regents and state Education Department recommendations would intend to both more fairly distribute funds and help update the now nearly decade old formula, portions of which are currently based on 2000 Census data, according to the recommendations included in the board agenda on the department website. The changes should be made immediately, according to the document.
With cuts made during the recession now restored, education policymakers and stakeholders are focusing on how school aid is distributed, a formula they hope will be fully phased in starting with the 2017-18 state budget.
Some stakeholders and leaders, however, say more substantial changes are needed.
The roughly 70-page Foundation Aid formula was established after the state's highest court in 2006 ruled that New York was underfunding schools and not meeting its constitutional burden to provide children with a "sound basic education." That case focused on New York City schools, but the state later put the formula in place for all districts to provide more equitable funding statewide.
The formula takes into consideration a number of factors but is based on four main points: the cost of a successful education, student need, regional cost differences and local district fiscal capacity.
The formula, however, was never fully phased in because of the recession. And since it was put together, poverty in the state has since increased, the population of English language learners has surged, costs for special education students have shifted and regional and district demographics have significantly changed.
The Regents and state Education Department are recommending a three-year phase out of the free and reduced-price lunch calculation, a factor used in the Foundation Aid formula in determining poverty and need in a district, according to the document. The calculation takes into account a three-year average using pre-kindergarten through sixth grade data, as older students are more difficult to track, Timbs said.
The calculation, the board and department contend, is not reliable because it doesn't take into account all the students in need. The board and department instead recommend using a weighted count of "Direct Certification," which automatically includes students eligible for free lunch based on participation in other programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid. Those programs are subject to "more rigorous accountability controls," according to the document.
The change could be "significant" for some districts, Timbs said. "Odds are in most cases that the poverty has actually increased, this will try to make the Foundation Aid more responsive to the high-poverty needs."
The education policymakers also are recommending another change in the pupil need calculation: the replacement of the 2000 Census data. They suggest instead using the more recent federal Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, which are created from federal tax returns and the American Community Survey, and are more reflective of current conditions.
The board and department, abiding by legislation passed last session, must submit their recommendations to the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo by Oct. 1. Though the recommendations don't address all the issues in the formula, it's a "great start," Timbs said.
"I'm very happy to see [state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia] obviously is right on the ball, the Regents are thinking this over very carefully," he said. "It's a very common sense approach."
Read the recommendations here: http://bit.ly/2cLQnnz