A Sham Process: Gov. Hochul's Designating the Rockefeller Institute to Review of the Foundation Aid Formula

A Sham Process: Gov. Hochul's Designating the Rockefeller Institute to Review of the Foundation Aid Formula

For the past two years, the Center for Educational Equity has called for the establishment of an independent commission to develop a new foundation aid formula to replace the outdated 17-year-old formula by which New York State distributes education aid to its schools. Last year, after the governor and the legislature rejected this approach, we supported the New York State Education Department’s request for a $1 million appropriation to hire national education finance experts to undertake the complex process of developing a new formula that would be responsive to current student needs.

In the final state budget bill adopted last weekend, however, the governor and the legislature rejected both reasonable approaches. Instead, they assigned the Rockefeller Institute, a division of the State University of New York, “to conduct a comprehensive study of the foundation aid formula” by December 1, 2024. This solution is preposterous. First, the Rockefeller Institute has virtually no expertise in school funding or fiscal equity matters. Second, the analysis required to create a new formula that adequately and equitably meets current student needs cannot be accomplished in seven months. And, finally, Robert Megna, Gov. Hochul’s budget director, will be returning soon to his position as president of the Rockefeller Institute. Mr. Megna is the architect of the governor’s ill-conceived 2024-2025 budget proposal and, as such, cannot lead an objective, independent review of the state’s schools’ present and future needs.

This disingenuous proposal does no more than delegate the Rockefeller Institute to prepare the governor’s education budget proposal for 2025-2026. The effort may tweak the current formula to meet the governor’s budget goals, but it will certainly not be an objective attempt to “ascertain the actual cost of providing a sound basic education” and ensure that “every school [will] have the resources necessary for providing the opportunity for a sound basic education,” as is required by the state constitution and the Court of Appeals’ ruling in CFE v. State of New York.

That the process will not adhere to constitutional requirements is baldly stated in the first goal the new law sets forth for the Rockefeller Institute study, namely, to ensure the new formula “be fiscally sustainable for the state, local taxpayers and school districts.” In other words, the first requirement the state has set forth for formula revision is to guard the state’s fiscal interests (and the governor’s political interests), rather than to ensure sufficient resources are available for all children to receive their basic educational rights.   

We have repeatedly stated that, in developing a new formula, substantial efforts must be made to promote cost efficiency by eliminating unnecessary state mandates, rooting out wasteful and corrupt practices, and adopting cost-effective educational programs, but student needs — not cost containment for its own sake — must be the primary and ultimate goal.      

A transparent process and extensive public engagement are also vital for a fair, adequate, equitable, and sustainable state aid formula. Students, families, and other education stakeholders must be given a meaningful opportunity to provide input and to respond to concepts being considered. The budget bill’s charge to the Rockefeller Institute to “hold at least three public hearings across the state to gather input from… stakeholders” falls short of meaningful public engagement.

Our position all along has been that producing a constitutional new school funding formula requires a comprehensive study of current educational needs and a thorough review of the foundation aid formula led by national experts in school finance, along with a robust statewide public engagement process. The goal must be to replace, not to tweak, a nearly two-decades-old formula that does not meet the current needs of the state’s students. The Rockefeller Institute is not in a position to undertake such an assignment. An undertaking of this kind must be thoughtful and not rushed: if an adequate new formula cannot be developed by December 1, 2024, well-considered interim improvements should be made to the current formula for 2025-2026, pending the development of a fully new formula the next year.

In 2003, advocates who were suspicious of then-governor George Pataki’s motives in creating a cost-analysis process that emphasized cost containment over student needs obtained private grant funds to hire experts, organize a statewide public engagement process, and undertake a thorough cost analysis. This independent study had a greater influence on the final foundation aid proposals adopted by the legislature in 2007 than those proposed by Gov. Pataki.

Perhaps at this time, private funds should be raised for an independent study to ensure a transparent process by which an objective, constitutional school aid formula is developed by national experts, with meaningful public engagement. The Center for Educational Equity would certainly support such an effort.


By: Michael Rebell
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