Assemblywoman Buttenschon: State Budget Disappointing for Mohawk Valley Schools

Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon (D-I-Utica/Rome) announced that the 2020-21 State budget of $170 billion was enacted earlier this week. While the Assemblywoman fought to ensure Mohawk Valley schools got their fair share of state education funding, the impacts of COVID-19 deepened an already $6 billion short fall leading to flat funding for most New York State school districts.

“Our schools give students the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the real world,” Buttenschon said. “That’s why when it came to the state budget, I called for a prioritization of the full funding owed to our districts and communities so that New York State could fulfill its moral, constitutional, and economic duty to properly invest in the education of our students. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed everything. Our educators are now faced with adapting to an unprecedented situation and developing innovative methods to teach our children, all while fearing the impacts of the State’s increasingly grim fiscal situation.”

Buttenschon criticized the budget agreement which, despite the additional funding provided to the State by the federal CARES Act, freezes foundation aid at 2019-20 levels. The stimulus funding is being used to offset a cut in State support in the form of a “Pandemic Adjustment” reminiscent of the Great Recession’s “Gap Elimination Adjustment.” The pandemic adjustments will result in cuts that total to over $1.1 billion statewide. The total cuts for Herkimer County school districts are over $3 million, while Oneida County school districts are facing cuts of over $14 million.

“While keeping funding flat is preferred to reductions in funding, our districts will still feel tightening due to their rising costs. While I am grateful that the budget does not include the Governor’s disastrous proposal to merge expense-based aids into foundation aid, the budget does give the Governor the ability to make periodic adjustments to the state budget throughout the year as we deal with COVID-19,” said Buttenschon. She notes that this opens up the possibility that school districts will face steep cuts later this year which would be devastating to already struggling and overburdened school districts.

Assemblywoman Buttenschon is especially concerned about the potential for these periodic adjustments that are part of the budget deal. “Local school officials have emphasized the importance of a predictable funding stream particularly during these challenging and unprecedented times. Officials are cognizant of the stresses that the State is now under, but most would prefer a realistic starting point because the thought of midyear adjustments is alarming,” said Buttenschon

To cover their budget gaps, districts can raise local taxes, cut programs and staff or, as many districts did during the Great Recession, work with unions to open collective bargaining agreements to freeze pay or find other benefits savings.

Buttenschon has long been involved in and committed to public education. Before her time in elected office, she served as dean of public service and emergency preparedness at Mohawk Valley Community College.