Western Queens schools to receive $33 million in funding

PS 78
P.S./I.S. 78 in Long Island City. (Photo by Angy Altamirano)

More than 40 schools in western Queens will receive a $33 million funding boost — money that is owed to them and will be distributed with the Foundation Aid formula — Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris announced this week.

Gianaris, who represents District 12 in the state Senate, said they were able to include the allocation in the new state budget after more than a decade has passed of a New York State Court of Appeals decision that found the state violated students’ Constitutional rights by underfunding schools.

“We’re very excited that this is finally happening after so many years,” Gianaris said in a press conference on Friday, April 16. “There’s a couple of reasons why, one is the incredible hard work of some of the advocates […] the other, to be frank, is a Democratic majority of the State Senate that is now able to work with our colleagues in the Assembly to advance so many of these causes.”

For decades, education advocates have fought for schools to be fairly funded. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) — now known as the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) — was created by parents who filed a lawsuit against New York State, claiming children “were not being provided the opportunity to an adequate education.” The Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in 2006, and ordered schools receive a $5.5 billion increase in basic operating aid over the course of a four-year phase-in — but the state never fully met the obligation.

The Foundation Aid formula was created in response to the court ruling in order to distribute state aid based on student need. The formula takes into account the school district and city’s ability to raise funds from local property taxes.

Now, New York schools will receive $1.4 billion in funding owed to them since 2006, including $530 million for New York City schools.

Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education and alumna of Hillcrest High School, said the move is a “huge, historic investment.”

“Since the formula was created, we have never had a statewide $1.4 billion go into Foundation Aid,” Gripper said. “This is a credit to the leadership in the Senate and the Assembly for holding strong on this issue, making education a top priority and for having a bold vision around raising taxes on the ultra wealthy in order to invest strategically in our schools.”

In terms of how schools are expected to use the funds, Gripper said the Foundation Aid formula has accountability mechanisms like the Contract for Excellence, that points to ways schools can prioritize funds for proven strategies, such as reducing class sizes, hiring guidance counselors and hiring a nurse for every school.

According to a breakdown from the senator’s office, multiple elementary schools and high schools in western Queens will receive more than half a million in owed funding, such as P.S./I.S. 78 at $755,286.

“To be able to see this money coming through correctly to impact the lives of the children and to help shape our communities is something really, truly remarkable to see,” Kelly Craig, president of the P.S/I.S. 78 PTA, said.

Some schools will receive well over $1 million, such as Aviation High School at $2.2 million and Long Island City High School at $2.6 million.

District 30 Superintendent Dr. Philip Composto said their school community is glad to receive the funding they’re owed.

“Working with students from District 30, I know this funding is sorely needed in our schools and at this unprecedented time, now more than ever, we need resources,” Composto said. “Senator Gianaris has always supported our schools and advocated for our fair share of Foundation Aid and I am pleased that New York’s students will be receiving the funds they are owed.”

District 30 Community Education Council Co-President Deborah Alexander and District 24 Community Education Council President Phil Wong, both of whom represent students in western Queens, said they’re thankful for Gianaris’ and the Legislature’s investment that’s long overdue.

“A sound, basic, and equitable education is more possible now, particularly for our most vulnerable children,” Alexander said.

Aid will be distributed to schools on a monthly basis in September, when the 2021-22 school year begins. The full Foundation Aid amount will be distributed over three years, and in New York City, the Department of Education will administer the funds through their own formula, “Fair Student Funding.”

The senator emphasized that the full funding is a result of the state taxing high-income earners. Gianaris said raising taxes on the wealthy is a necessary source of revenue for the state because it will eventually stop counting on federal pandemic relief.

This year, the state invested $11.9 billion in schools, $1.3 billion more than last year, and will receive $6.9 billion from the federal government, according to Chalkbeat.

“It’s not just that we’re doing it to be punitive, we’re doing it because there are needs that have gone unmet for a very long time,” Gianaris said. “And I think most people would agree that this is more than worth it when you’re looking at millions of dollars that are going to our school kids, particularly ones in Queens, but throughout the entire state.”