December 03, 2019

Pallotta: We’re gonna need a bigger pie

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Andy Pallotta and Michael Mulgrew
Caption: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew testify in Albany. (Photo by Rebecca Miller)

A true kid from Brooklyn, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta compared the debate over the state’s Foundation Aid for schools to a pizza.

“It is not just about cutting a pie into smaller slices,” he told a joint hearing of the state Senate committees on education and budget and revenues Tuesday. “We need a bigger pie!”

Foundation Aid — a formula for quantifying how much districts need to provide a sound, basic education, as required by the state constitution — was a significant public policy achievement when it was created in 2007, he said. “We believe the formula should remain the underpinning of school aid policy in New York,” he said.

However, he said, since the recession of 2008, it has never been funded.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, seated next to Pallotta at the hearing table, said, “We need the formula, but we need to fund the formula. … Let’s get the politics out of it.”

The hearing in New York City — where schools are owed $1.1 billion — culminated a series of regional roundtable discussions convened in every corner of the state over the past two months by Senate education Chair Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers.

The lack of funding is the primary driver of educational inequality in our state, Pallotta testified. From Long Island to Buffalo, roughly 400 school districts statewide are owed more than $3.4 billion in Foundation Aid, according to calculations done by NYSUT and the New York State Educational Conference Board. Sixty-eight percent of that amount, or $2.3 billion, is owed to high-need schools

In the roundtables, stakeholders heard over and over how the current amount of Foundation Aid funding is insufficient to serve the needs of New York’s school districts.

• In Yonkers, schools are underfunded by $38 million in Foundation Aid, shortchanging mental health services.

• In Buffalo, schools are underfunded by $76 million, delaying services for students with disabilities and slashing music and art programs.

• Owed $85 million, high-need schools in Rochester face a fiscal crisis that could cut nearly 300 positions by January, making a bad situation worse.

Pallotta said tackling inequality starts with re-establishing a three-year phase-in for funding the Foundation Aid formula. NYSUT and its coalition partners on the ECB [LINK to ECB news release from last week] recommend an increase of $1.6 billion in Foundation Aid and full funding for expense-based aid in the 2020–21 state budget as part of at least $2.1 billion in new school aid.

“We believe that addressing inequality in education should be part of addressing the vast income inequality between the haves and the have nots here in New York,” Pallotta said, and that requires more revenue.

“It’s time to balance out that picture by demanding that the ultra-wealthy finally pay their fair share,” he said.