Assemblywoman Russell takes aim at state aid formula with School Funding Equity Act
Friday, February 1, 2013 - 12:00 pm

Taking on what she calls “one of the most divisive issues in the state budget,” Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) will be reintroducing in the Assembly the legislation she sponsored last session to overhaul the state’s school aid formula.

The bill, the School Funding Equity Act, amends the school aid formula to provide “equity in funding” -- benefiting poorer school districts.

“This legislation is essential to ensuring that children in the most disadvantaged parts of this state receive even the most basic education,” Russell said.

“The inequity in the state’s school aid funding is pushing our school districts over their own fiscal cliff,” she said.

One of the difficulties such a bill might encounter in the Assembly – the fact that the body is dominated by downstate Democrats who might be protective of wealthier suburban districts – might be overcome by a coalition of members who represent poorer districts in major cities and in rural New York.

“The provisions of this bill address the needs of our North Country schools as well as poor city schools across this state,” she added. “It is essential that all poor school district communities band together and work to reform the school aid formula in this year’s budget process,” Russell said.

The legislation addresses several areas of the school aid formula by:

· allowing aid to be calculated based upon data over the last five years, helping school districts experiencing fluctuation in their communities

· providing for accurate calculation of the average cost of general education instruction by utilizing spending data from all but the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent schools

· placing more emphasis on the number of students that qualify for free and reduced school lunches.

· eliminating the current requirement that all school districts receive a minimum amount of school aid

· calling for the regional cost index in the formula to be updated to reflect current data.

Russell says her bill addresses arbitrary provisions in the funding formula that prevent the poorest schools from being compensated based upon their actual data. The bill language permits schools with wealth ratios below .65 and above .25 to use their actual wealth ratio. Current law will only allow districts to use a minimum of .65 when calculating aid even though many districts have lower ratios. The bill also prevents wealthy school districts from appearing poorer than they actually are. The bill language provides for increasing the wealth ratio ceiling for school districts from a 2 to a 3. These provisions allow for calculating school aid based upon actual figures instead of rounding the poor district wealth ratios up and the wealthy district ratios down.

And she says it would eliminate automatic increases in aid to school districts that do not need those funds as indicated by the school aid formula.

The proposed legislation only assures districts they will receive up to 85 percent of what they received the year before -- allowing for a reduction of up to fifteen percent each year. The language also permits districts that are entitled to increased funding based upon historical funding inequities to receive one 125 percent of what they received the year before, an increase from 115 percent.

The news release from her office said that this provision provides the mechanism to reverse the expanding inequity in a phased way.

“School Aid funding reform is one of the most divisive issues in the state budget, even though most of the state is being shortchanged by problems in the formula,” Russell said.

“My approach has been to build broad based support around the state for the reform legislation and carry the fiscal and educational realities of our local districts to the legislature and governor.”

Russell represents the 116th Assembly District, which includes all the St. Lawrence County towns along the St. Lawrence River and Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb and DePeyster, and northern Jefferson County.