Governor Cuomo’s Budget: Progressive or Unconstitutional?

10 Jul 2017

In New York State there are 6,000 schools, and nonpublic institutions account for 2,100 of them. While nonpublic schools account for a third of total schools in NY, they only account for 17% of total enrollment, with 456,000 students enrolled in nonpublic schools and 2,650,000 enrolled in public schools. In March of 2017, Governor Cuomo declared in the new budget, the state will provide nonpublic schools with $197,000,000 for the 2017-2018 school year. This sum is the greatest allocation of funding to private schools in New York State history. As recently as 2012, private schools were delegated $100 million in state funding, half of the current budget. Governor Cuomo stated, “My opinion is I aggressively support the religious schools.” He believes that there should be an increased amount of subsidies for private schools to reduce costs. Although his direct quote refers to religious schools, the budget is to be utilized by all nonpublic schools. Traditionally, nonpublic school funding is tuition based; however, under the new legislation, they will have access to some federal and state funding, and reimbursements opportunities from the local school districts.

Currently, nonpublic schools have access to two major grants, AIS and MSA. The implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2002 set a precedent for the utilization of Academic Intervention for Nonpublic Schools (AIS). AIS is entirely state funded, and it was designed to train teachers that taught students that scored poorly on state exams. The Mandated Service Aid (MSA) is a reimbursement program that allows nonpublic schools to obtain funding for certain state mandates (e.g. State School Immunization Program, Calculators, Regents Exams, Pupil Attendance Reporting, etc.).

Furthermore, non-public schools that participate in partnerships with public schools may receive Title 1 A funding. These funds are available to highly impoverished areas to create Century Community Learning Centers. These centers offer after school services, such as tutoring or other enrichment activities. They serve as additional reinforcement for English language, math, and the arts to provide students with the tools necessary to excel on state examinations.

Title l A funds policy has provisions set aside to help nonpublic schools attract the most qualified professionals. Nonpublic Schools experience an excessive teacher turnover rate because they cannot compete with the salaries of public school teachers. As a result, many of the teachers that have been trained in the nonpublic arena leave for more money in the public school arena. Additionally, in a study performed by Brookings, “the bottom 25 percent of teachers are more likely to leave public school teaching.” As a result, in order to replace teachers leaving for the public school system, non-private schools are often left hiring the low performing public school teachers. The Every Student Succeeds Act, asserts that all students whether private or public deserve the same quality education from qualified teachers, and Governor Cuomo hoped to further expand on this principle by delegating additional funds to private schools in his new budget.

The 2017-2018 budget expands upon funding in several areas that include: Health Services, Homebound Instruction, Textbook Loan Program, Computer Software Loan Program, School Library Materials Loan Program, Transportation (students must reside within 15 miles of the nonpublic school), Special Education Services, Dual Enrollment Programs, and Mandated Services Reimbursement. These enhancements to the budget will ease some of the burdens that private schools inherently possess, and aim to improve the overall learning experience of the student.

In addition to the aforementioned improvements; the state has implemented a three-year technology advancement grant called, The Learning Technology Grant Program (LGT). The LGT is in place to progressively upgrade schools’ technology to improve classroom instruction. Although nonpublic schools are not eligible to apply for this grant, public schools receiving the grant must provide nonpublic schools in their district with the opportunity to participate.

It is undeniable that an education is every child’s right; however, the motives for expanding private school education should be speculated upon. Governor Cuomo expanded nonpublic school funding on the ethos that:

We have basically two education systems in the state of New York. One is a public education system. Public schools, which are very, very important and we support. Then we have religious schools. I’m Catholic. My parents chose to send me to a Catholic elementary school, and a Catholic high school I went to.”

Although nonpublic schools have less funding than their public counterpart; is it truly equitable to take funds from public institutions? As previously discussed nonpublic school student enrollment is only about 17% of the entire student population in NYS. Furthermore, it may, in fact, be unconstitutional for taxpayer money to go towards the funding of nonpublic schools:

No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or aid of any individual, private corporation or association, or private undertaking. . .” – N.Y.S. Const., Art VIII, §1

The new budgets battles with what is constitutional, equitable, and practical. Despite Governor Cuomo’s honorable intentions of providing all students with an equal opportunity to learn, he may have inadvertently broken the law to do so. Whether this ever finds its way into the courts, who knows. What’s important is that private schools should have additional resources to allow for options in education; something that is important to students that just don’t fit into the public education system.

This article was also featured in The Report Card Vol. 1.