North country school leaders are pushing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and their lawmakers to increase aid to their districts as they struggle to maintain even basic educational programs.
At the same time, Gov. Cuomos NY Education Reform Commission has recommended longer school days and school years with even more pre-kindergarten education programs to improve state schools, which would surely add to costs and make even more difficult attempts to balance limited state and local property tax revenues with rising demands. As Gov. Cuomo said following the reports release, Frankly, its going to be a question of money.
North country school officials made their case for higher state aid at meeting with regional lawmakers. They urged school leaders to lobby the governor for changes to the formula distributing state aid to send more money to poor, rural school districts.
However, it sets up what has been the classic political battle between upstate poor and wealthy downstate districts in the debate over divvying up a limited pool of state aid to elementary and second schools. Without increased revenue, changes favoring north country schools would reshuffle current funding at the expense of downstate urban and suburban school districts. They can be expected to resist proposals asking them to subsidize upstate schools while they have to cut programs or raise property taxes.
So where do school districts and reformers expect to come up with the extra funding?
The state could raise tax revenues through across-the-board tax hikes. However, Gov. Cuomo is expected to hold the line on taxes in his annual State of the State address this week. An alternative would have the state revisit the property tax cap that limits the ability of local districts to raise revenue to meet a state-mandated core curriculum.
A third possibility is being aggressively pursued by St. Lawrence County school districts looking at innovative ways to sustain their threatened programs. Morristown, Heuvelton and Hermon-DeKalb have hired a consultant to study the possibility of establishing a regional high school, which is not permitted in the state now. North country representatives should be pushing legislation that allows the creativity of St. Lawrence County schools to create a better environment for students in smaller districts.