Reforming School Aid Formula Would Even Playing Field for Districts

As many of you are aware, the Governor has proposed cutting $1.3 billion to education in the 2010-11 budget as the state struggles to close what’s approaching a $10 billion budget gap. After the news of the proposal hit in January, Upstate districts soon learned how difficult the cuts could be to their local budgets. For some, cuts in school aid may equal up to 30 teaching jobs lost. In other cases, like the City of Syracuse and in Liverpool, more than 100 teachers could lose their jobs if the Governor’s budget is enacted. In order to soften the impact of these cuts, we must reform the state’s school aid formula.

Our school aid formula should be more equitable. What I mean by that is more state aid should be driven to low-wealth districts than high-wealth districts. Many of the school districts in my Assembly District are low-wealth school districts and, therefore, are heavily reliant on state aid. When state aid is cut, they feel the cut more acutely than high-wealth school districts because of their high dependency on state aid.

For example, imagine two school districts: school district “A” and school district “B.” School district “A” is a high-wealth district and school district “B” is a low-wealth district. Both school districts “A” and “B” need to come up with $1 million to pay for educational programs mandated by federal and state governments. For school district “A”, because it is a high-wealth district, the state pays 20% of the $1 million budget or $200,000. For school district “B”, because it is a low-wealth district, the state pays 70% of the $1 million budget or $700,000. Now imagine that state aid is cut by five percent. This cut will impact school district “B” much more than school district “A” because “B” is more reliant on state aid than “A”; a five percent cut to $700,000 is $35,000 while a five percent cut to $200,000 is $10,000.

To make matters worse, in order to make up for the loss of state aid, both school districts “A” and “B” will have to rely on property taxes. However, because district “A” is a high-wealth district and has a strong property tax base, it will be much easier for it to raise $10,000 through property taxes. However, district “B”, being a low-wealth district, has a much more limited property tax base and, therefore, will have to increase its property tax levy to a much greater extent to make up for the $35,000 in cuts. These increased property taxes just put further strain on an area where property taxes already are strangling businesses and residents.

Admittedly, this example is a simplification; but it does illustrate the inequity of state school aid cuts. To his credit, the Governor, in his budget proposal, does add language to attempt to soften the blow to low-wealth districts. However, his proposal still does not go far enough, and even with this additional language, low-wealth districts will be disproportionately impacted by the cuts.

There are ideas on how to reform the State school aid formula so that the inequities are taken out of the system. However, there are several political obstacles to getting this done. In order to overcome these obstacles, upstate legislators must work together in order to form the political clout to get the job done. Simply put, if we can reform the school aid formula so that cuts in state aid could be distributed more fairly, then when the state is forced to cut school aid, which apparently will be the case this year, the effects will not be as drastic on our school districts.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at or by calling (315) 598-5185.