The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
New York state’s 2004 legislative session will be remembered more for what lawmakers failed to accomplish than what they did.
Gov. George E. Pataki and the legislature missed a court-ordered July 30 deadline to provide enough funding for New York City so every student receives the “sound, basic education” guaranteed under the state constitution. A trial court is considering what powers it can use to force the state to comply with the 2003 order from the state’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York school finance case. (“More States Losers in Finance Cases,” this issue.)
While the lawmakers didn’t solve their biggest school finance question, they did give pre-K-12 programs the largest funding increases in several years.
The precollegiate education budget for the 2004-05 school year will increase by $546 million over last year, a 5.2 percent increase, to a total of $15.2 billion. All school districts will receive at least a 1.8 percent increase in operating aid, while the state’s biggest urban areas will see much larger increases.
Aid to the 1.1 million-student New York City schools will rise by 5.5 percent, and funding to the four other biggest urban districts—Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, and Syracuse—will increase 9.3 percent.
While those increases are more generous than any in recent years, they fall far short of estimates of what it will cost the state to comply with the 2003 decision by the New York Court of Appeals.
Studies conducted by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the state calculate it will cost the state an extra $4.3 billion to $5.6 billion per year to meet the court’s mandate. The legislature adjourned in July without agreeing to increases of that magnitude, but returned in August to pass the budget.
While the legislators failed to address the court order, education groups say schools wouldn’t have gotten funding increases of the size they did if it were not for the case.
The legislature also did more than in past years to target new state aid to the neediest districts, according to a report on the state budget published by the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
In the coming year, the state faces a budget gap of about $5 billion, according to the state’s budget division. The state’s operating budget is about $45 billion.