State Senator Dan Stec is the latest North Country politician to ask why Governor Kathy Hochul's Executive Budget proposal is calling for the elimination of a "hold harmless'" provision, a move that would cost 337 school districts statewide over $160 million in essential aid.
Stec pointed to the fact that 24 of 47 schools in his district will receive almost $8 million less in foundation aid combined, with Clifton-Fine receiving a 24% cut to aid and Parishville receiving a 12% cut as references.
"These are devastating cuts, most of these schools are in the Adirondack park. Which means when you start calculating the formula, guess what the state of NY doesn't want more people living there. That hurts them. Number two, guess what, the state of NY owns a lot of property there so that affects their wealth ratio. Does anyone look at these runs before they put them out and fire up 337 school districts that are looking at cuts?" Stec asked.
Stec, who represents a sizable portion of St. Lawrence County, participated in a joint Legislative Hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education for the 2024 executive budget on Feb. 1.
During his allotted time, Stec questioned state Department of Education Commissioner Rosa about the proposal to eliminate the provision, a move that would heavily impact multiple districts in St. Lawrence County.
Foundation aid is largely used for salaries, academic development and emergency projects up to a certain dollar amount.
With the clause in place, the state is required to offer at least as much foundation aid each year as it did the year prior, essentially ensuring the state is unable to reduce aid indiscriminately.
That could soon go by the wayside and would heavily impact Canton, Clifton-Fine, Hammond, Madrid -Waddington, Morristown and Ogdensburg.
Clifton-Fine Superintendent Matthew Southwick recently released a letter to the community that detailed the possible effects the proposal would have on the district, including the loss of nearly $1 million in foundation aid.
If it were to come to fruition, Southwick said the district would likely see a 21% tax levy increase.
Stec joins the growing list of state representatives from both sides of the aisle who are voicing concerns over the governor's plans to eliminate the hold harmless provision.
Democrats and Republicans alike took aim at the proposal, saying it disproportionately affects rural and smaller suburban districts while also maintaining or even increasing aid levels for larger suburban districts and city schools.
Another crucial change proposed would be the way the rate of inflation is calculated when doling out foundation aid as well.
Rather than utilizing the Consumer Price Index, Hochul wants to use the average rate of inflation over a ten-year period that would then see the elimination of the highest and lowest numbers to settle on the average rate.
State legislators have said that the change would mean an increase in foundation aid of just 2.4% instead of a 3.8% increase based on the Consumer Price Index calculation method.
During the public hearing, Rosa herself admitted that the new system does not make sense.
Hochul has continually said that the idea that foundation aid is being cut is "inaccurate," saying that aid has increased by over $7 billion in the past two years as the result of a court order that forced the state to increase aid.
Hochul said recently that districts "cannot expect that every year" and called the proposed changes "common sense" when assessing districts, in particular rural ones, that have seen enrollment declines over the last decade.
Critics of that stance, including north country reps, argue that more aid is needed for such districts because tax revenue has also declined as a result of families leaving the state in recent years.
"Seventy-five percent of schools are not getting the same funding they got last year under this hold harmless concept, which we really need to talk about that intensely," Hochul said recently.
But Stec and other reps have pushed back on that narrative in recent weeks, pointing to the disparity in foundation aid allocations for north country schools as a clear sign that the governor is "out of touch" with the needs of rural school districts.