Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Theresa) will announce new legislation she is sponsoring, the School Funding Equity Act, at a news conference in Watertown Friday.
The equitable funding of school districts around the state has become a rallying cry for North Country educators and parents have seen their districts’ state funding reduced in recent years.
This year, even more cuts to staff and programs will be required on top of what has already been eliminated, while, critics charge, wealthier suburban school districts continue to receive levels of funding that have not required much in the way of sacrifice from them.
“I think we all realize this is a very important year to make meaningful change,” said Russell at a Jan. 3 meeting at Canton Central School where state legislators were invited to talk about the situation.
“But we can’t just go out and say ‘Spend Money.’ We can’t spend much more, but we can reallocate it,” Russell said.
Russell has revealed no details of her plan yet.
However, the issue has been much discussed in the North Country before and since Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his budget message earlier this month.
Many school administrators and parents say Cuomo did not address the concerns of school districts in St. Lawrence County and around the state that believe they are nearing financial bankruptcy and will be unable to deliver the level of education they are obliged to provide.
At the Jan. 3 panel in Canton, which included Assemblyman Marc Butler (R-Newport) and Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Heuvelton), participants agreed that if anything significant is going to happen to help North Country schools this year, it has to be worked out in the state budget,
Russell and Butler agreed that the long term solution to the problem is to get the current school aid formula changed through legislation, but considering the workings of the two legislative bodies and the interests of legislators whose districts include schools who could lose funding under a new formula, it will not be an easy task.
“Other school districts will have to feel a little bit of the pain we’re feeling here,” Russell said. “Some of those school districts have not had to make any program cuts. They should not expect the same level of funding they have been getting.”