Democratic Assemblywoman Addie Russell, of Theresa, thinks the current state school aid formula is broken, benefiting wealthier districts at the expense of poorer ones. She says legislation she's introduced would make the formula more equitable.
Russell says especially in a time of financial constraint, equity in the way aid is distributed is crucial. She says wealthier districts haven't really shared in the pain of the last few years, while cutbacks have threatened poorer districts' ability to provide a sound, basic education for their students.
"Those funds, if redirected to the neediest school districts, can really make all the difference between keeping a full-day kindergarten, or keeping, you know, the library open," she said. "I mean, these are very fundamental programs that we're trying to save in our poorest school districts."
Russell says right now, the aid formula systematically drives funding to wealthier districts. And there's a requirement that all schools receive aid, even if they can support themselves through their property tax base.
Russell's legislation would allow more accurate representation of a district's financial situation for the sake of the aid formula. It would erase the requirement that all schools receive aid. And it would make other changes, like placing more emphasis on how many children in a district qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
"By making that a larger component of how schools are funded, we'll ensure that precious school aid dollars are going to districts with the neediest children," she said.
Russell says the measure can be budget-neutral.
"This does not have to be a costly measure. This is essentially how we allocate the same amount of money that we have. Yes, I believe that we should be adding more money into it, but it does not require us to add any more money."
Russell says now is the right time, politically, to make this change. She says she has the ear of leaders in the Senate coalition.
"And I think that even upstate Republican senators are starting to see that there needs to be a change, because of the devastating effects that this, the manipulation of the formula, is having on our upstate schools," she said.
Russell says providing a sound education in poorer, upstate communities is crucial to the region's economic future.