Op-Ed: It’s time to really prioritize school funding

Senator Sean Ryan

Originally published in Ken-Ton Bee on .

Every year in February, the two houses of the New York State Legislature review the governor’s proposed budget and begin working to determine what they would like to see in the state budget for the coming fiscal year. Education is a top priority for legislators during budget negotiations each year, and many of us have already heard from educators and parents in our districts about the needs of their school districts that they would like to see reflected in this year’s budget.

Last year’s budget included record education funding, including full funding for foundation aid for the first time in New York’s history; expanded eligibility for free school meals; and increased funding for SUNY schools. This year, my colleagues and I will work hard to ensure that schools across New York continue to receive the resources they need to provide every child in New York with an education that sets them up for success throughout the rest of their lives.

As we all know, however, school funding doesn’t just come from the state budget. In fact, our schools actually get most of their revenue from property taxes. But while we’re busy making historic investments in public education in the state budget, there’s a hidden problem exacerbating school budget gaps in communities across the state. Year after year, industrial development agencies throughout New York provide corporations with tax subsidies that come at the direct expense of New York’s school districts. In 2021 alone, New York schools missed out on nearly $2 billion because of these corporate handouts. State officials have estimated that New York will need 180,000 new teachers in the next decade. Our schools need these tax dollars, and IDAs should not have the authority to waive them.

That’s why I have introduced a bill that would prevent IDAs from abating any taxes that are meant to be directed to a school district. Support for this legislation has grown in the last year, as more and more school districts impacted by these IDA giveaways have begun to recognize the injustice of allowing unelected (and unaccountable) officials to determine who does and does not need to contribute their share of school taxes. This month, several of my senate colleagues joined me in an official request to include the bill in the 2024-2025 state budget.

This change would mean big savings for New York’s taxpayers, because we’re the ones who end up paying for these tax breaks. When IDA property tax abatements lead to budget shortfalls for our schools, we’re forced to make a decision: Either we accept that our schools will be underfunded, or we make up the difference by using taxpayer dollars to add more school aid to the state budget.

By telling IDAs they can no longer give away money meant for our schools, we can put an end to this annual game of budgetary Whack-a-Mole and save taxpayers millions of dollars without causing budget gaps for school districts.