As the New York Legislature debates a final FY20 State Budget, lawmakers are struggling with how to close the severe and chronic funding gap for the state’s public schools, totaling over $4 billion. But at the same time, the Legislature is rushing through yet another significant increase in the diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools.
In its ongoing budget deliberations, the Legislature is considering proposals to increase the appropriation of public funds to reimburse private schools for teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to $30 million. The public funds would be disbursed to private schools under a 2017 law that authorizes the State Education Department to provide grants for STEM teachers to any private school across the state, backed by an initial $5 million appropriation.
No information or accounting has been made available by the State Education Department on previous STEM appropriations to private schools under the law, including how much public funding has been disbursed and which private schools applied for and received public funds.
The proposals to increase the STEM teacher appropriation to private schools is on top of millions more in public funds diverted from the State Budget to private schools to pay for transportation, textbooks, technology and other expenditures.
The rush to increase public funding for private schools shines a stark spotlight on the Legislature’s continuing failure to fully fund the Foundation Aid Formula for public schools, enacted in 2007 to comply with the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling. After years of cuts followed by modest increases, the underfunding of the state’s public schools stands at over $4 billion. The Foundation Aid Formula provides the bulk of funding for public education and is especially crucial to the state’s high need school districts.
The ongoing funding shortfalls have left many districts struggling to provide essential education resources to their students. These resource deficits in public schools include some of the very same expenditures, such as science and math teachers, paid for by the diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools in the State Budget.
“Until the Legislature fulfills its constitutional commitment to New York’s public school children to fully fund Foundation Aid, there is simply no justification for any increase in the diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools,” said David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director. “The Legislature should also carefully examine other diversions of public funds to private schools and consider reallocating those funds to close the public school funding gap. It’s time to finally fulfill the promise of the CFE rulings made over a decade ago.”
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