Schools to receive $2 billion in new aid

On Board Online • April 25, 2022

By Brian Fessler
Director of Governmental Relations

In the morning hours of Saturday, April 9, the state Assembly finished passage of the last remaining bills to complete the 2022-23 state budget process. The Senate had finalized passage of bills in their house hours before. Gov. Kathy Hochul immediately signed all the budget bills to officially complete the process. The April 9 date matches 2017 as the latest budget since 2010, when the Great Recession pushed deliberations that year into the summer.

For the first time in many years, school aid was not a contentious part of final budget negotiations. The governor, Senate and Assembly all proposed the same school aid package: funding year two of the foundation aid phase-in plan that was initially approved in the 2021-22 budget, plus full funding of expense-based aids.

In the end, the state's public school districts will see a $2.08 billion increase (7.2%) in traditional school aid, over 2021-22 levels. Of that total, $1.53 billion is driven through new foundation aid. The remaining $540 million includes full-funding of expense-based aids and an increase in prekindergarten funding.

As noted, the budget includes year two of the foundation aid phase-in plan. That plan provides districts who are below full-funding with an increase equal to 50% of their remaining phase-in. All districts, including the nearly 300 districts currently on hold-harmless, are guaranteed a minimum 3% increase.

In total, the enacted budget provides a more than $1.5 billion increase in foundation aid over current 2021-22 levels. NYSSBA's top school funding priority is for the state to continue its commitment to the phase-in plan while also ensuring all districts receive a guaranteed minimum increase, as all districts face program and service cost increases each year, especially in the current inflationary environment.

In addition to the traditional school aid package, the enacted budget included a $100 million fund, as proposed by Gov. Hochul, to support school district and BOCES efforts to address student wellbeing and learning loss in response to the trauma brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund, officially named the "Recover from COVID" school program, will be available over two years, with funding allocations serving as a match against other local, state and federal investments made by districts in these areas.

The budget includes other provisions that have been supported by NYSSBA, such as forgiveness for late filing of building aid and transportation aid forms, which helps districts facing state aid penalties for paperwork errors. NYSSBA also supported more than $100 million in additional pre-kindergarten funding, a plan to leverage more than $1 billion in state and federal funds to further close the digital divide and expanded budgetary flexibilities for special act districts.

NYSSBA also advocated successfully for a one-year waiver of the current $35,000 public retiree earnings cap as a way to support districts who are facing staff shortages, especially in the areas of bus drivers and substitute teachers. The change makes it more attractive for retired employees to work full- or part-time.

The final budget did not include some targeted investments that had been pushed for by NYSSBA, including support for career and technical education programs by increasing the BOCES aidable salary cap and boosting special services aid for non-component districts, restoration of the annual appropriation for the state to make payments against the prior year aid claims list and an increase to the limit for building projects under the capital outlay aid exception.

On the labor front, the budget includes multiple adjustments to Tiers 5 and 6 for members of the teachers retirement system and the state and local retirement system. For both tiers, the budget moves the length of service necessary to vest in the systems from 10 years down to five years (matching Tier 4). And for Tier 6 employees, overtime compensation from April 2022 to April 2024 will not be included when calculating employee contribution amounts.

Major changes in school transportation are coming as legislators agreed to Gov. Hocul's plan to electrify the state's school bus fleet. The plan requires all new bus purchases to be zero-emission (electric or hydrogen fueled) by 2027, with all non-zero-emission buses off the road by 2035. State aid would be provided for buses and charging stations, and electric charges would be aided as fuel is now. While the program is similar to what was proposed by the governor in January, NYSSBA worked with partner organizations, including those representing school superintendents and school business officials, to address potential logistical and cost burdens. The final budget adjusted the original proposal by allowing districts to request a hardship waiver from the 2027 deadline for up to two years, and $500 million was earmarked within the November 2022 environmental bond proposal to support the costs of the transition.

Lastly, the final budget amended the Open Meetings Law by authorizing new video conference meeting options, to be in effect until July 1, 2024, and extended the current virtual meeting allowance for 60 days beyond the date the budget was signed. The state Committee on Open Government has issued a Q&A document in response to these changes, which can be accessed here:

Following completion of the budget, the Senate and Assembly left Albany for spring break. They were planning to return on Monday, April 25, for 19 more days of legislative session. They are scheduled to finish their legislative work for the year on June 2.

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