Riverhead families turned out for a foundation aid rally Jan. 18 at the middle school.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle yesterday announced draft legislation to increase foundation aid funding to school districts, like Riverhead, that have received less than 55% of the full allotment of foundation aid.

In a joint press release issued late yesterday afternoon, the state lawmakers outlined the bill’s criteria to determine if a district is eligible for a foundation aid increase. A district would be eligible if it has:

  • an increase in enrollment of at least 2% since 2008;
  • at least 50% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch;
  • at least 13% English language learners in the school district population;
  • at least 8% special education students in the school district population;
  • received no more than 55% of foundation aid if the foundation aid formula had been fully funded.

The bill requires the commissioner of education to increase foundation aid for each district that meets all of these criteria, but it leaves it to the commissioner to determine the rate of foundation aid.

It does not require funding at the statewide average of 80% of the foundation aid formula.

The Riverhead Central School District would meet all of the bill’s criteria for a foundation aid increase. Its foundation aid funding is less than 50% of the foundation aid formula. Since the formula was established in 2008, Riverhead has had a 22.8% increase in student enrollment and a 307.9% increase in the number of English Language Learners. In addition, Riverhead serves an ever-increasing number of students who receive free and reduced lunch, according to the district.

The legislation would not reduce foundation aid to any school district which does not meet the criteria, the lawmakers said.

Singling out the Riverhead and Hampton Bays school districts, Thiele said “equity requires that the formula address school districts that are significantly below the state average for full funding.”

While both districts have gotten significant increases in foundation aid in the past five years, Thiele said, both still remain below 50%.

Foundation aid funding at 80% would increase Riverhead’s foundation aid by $17 million to $48 million, school district officials said at a rally for foundation aid equity at Riverhead Middle School on Jan. 18.

The governor’s executive budget, released Jan. 22, would increase total state education aid to Riverhead by $2,252,514 (6.9%) to $34,777,118.

“This legislation would ensure that need, growth, and equity are recognized in apportioning school aid,” Thiele said.

The legislation would address “the balance between the needs of our schools and what residents can afford to pay,” LaValle said. It would ensure that districts with “additional stressors such as higher growth in enrollment or special needs categories receive fair reimbursement.” Importantly, it would ensure “the burden of additional support does not fall solely on local taxpayers,” the senator said.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo called the bill “a smart fix for our communities.”

“It’s inspiring to see community leaders joining us in our fight for our fair share of the foundation aid,” Riverhead School Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said. “As highlighted in State Assemblymen Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle’s proposed bill, Riverhead has seen increases in population, numbers of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch as well as those who have special needs. It’s crucial to have the financial support to meet these growing needs,” she said.

“With increased aid, Riverhead could add a much-needed nine-period day at the high school and an alternative school. We need more teachers, counselors and staff to address the needs of our students. We will continue to advocate for our children and fight for Riverhead’s fair share, but this proposal is a step in the right direction,” Henriquez said.

Thiele and LaValle said the final decision on school aid will ultimately be addressed in the 2020 State Budget.

The state must first close a $6.1 billion budget deficit before addressing education aid and other priorities, the lawmakers said. This legislation will ensure that the needs of Long Island school districts like Riverhead and Hampton Bays are addressed during the budget process.

“When it comes to fully funding public education, every year we hear the same thing at the start of the budget process: We have a huge deficit, so don’t ask for more money. But what we’re really asking for is for New York to keep its promises,” New York State United Teachers president Andy Pallotta said in a statement last week, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his budget proposal.

“Educational inequality is the most pressing issue of our time because the state is billions of dollars behind on Foundation Aid funding for roughly 400 school districts statewide,” Pallotta said.

The teachers union called for a $2.1 billion increase in state aid in the 2020-21 state budget, which includes the first installment of a proposed three-year phase-in of the more than $3.4 billion in foundation aid owed to more than 400 school districts around New York.

NYSUT is conducting a “Fund Our Future” bus tour “to draw attention to the severe impact a lack of state funding has had on schools statewide.”

The bus tour will stop in Riverhad on Jan. 31.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information about the proposed legislation after a copy of the bill was provided by Assemblyman Fred Thiele.

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