In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his executive budget proposal for 2015, including more than $1 billion in additional state aid for schools. A billion dollars could really help schools and students around the state.
But wait. That promised pile of money comes with serious strings attached. The governor also requested more control over failing schools, changes in the teacher evaluation law, tenure requirements and other reforms. Unless he gets what he wants from the State Legislature, schools will get no increase at all in state aid. Until he gets what he wants, he won’t release estimated state aid data to schools.
Just this week, both houses of the Legislature countered with their proposed budgets, which include nearly $2 billion increases in school aid, topping Cuomo’s high-end proposal and rejecting the governor’s reform agenda. How this plays out before a final approved state budget is in place is anybody’s guess. Yet, there is still no estimated aid data for schools.
As a parent, you may be wondering what this has to do with you. Budget bickering is politics as usual in Albany, but it does affect–particularly this year–local schools and your child’s education.
When the governor holds back state aid estimates from your school district, local business officials are missing an important tool needed to build a budget for the coming school year. They may have a hard time deciding what programs can be funded, where improvements can be made, where the district will have to make do, or where cuts may be necessary.
That means your child could get the short end of the educational stick. That’s when this budget stuff can become personal.
When education and state leaders discuss school reform, they see change over the course of time. When parents talk about school, they are talking about their own children doing well this year in a particular grade and hopefully graduating in the usual span of years. It’s all about right now for parents and students.
Many parents and caregivers feel as if they do all that’s required of them by making sure their kids go to school each day and do their homework every night. “What do we know about state politics or school budgets anyway?” they wonder. That’s just the point. We can, and should know more about both, especially since school plays such an enormous role in our children’s young lives.
Most school districts offer community forums or school board meetings where their developing budget is discussed. Usually your school superintendent and business official have prepared a presentation explaining where the money comes from and how they plan to spend it. It’s a matter of public record, and you have a right to know and to have a voice. Funny thing is many of these forums draw few community members.
Do you attend these meetings? Do you understand what drives costs up, why the budget is growing, and which programs are at risk of being cut? Do you listen carefully, and speak up for beneficial programs that will help your child prosper in school?
It’s your right and responsibility to not only advocate for your own child’s best educational opportunities, but to be part of the community’s voice in local school governance.
Those budget forums and board meetings held in empty rooms always prompt school leaders to wonder why. They want you to attend. They want to know what educational initiatives their community values.
An empty room sends an apathetic message, that school is not important. Very few parents would ever say that regarding their own child.
Be involved. Embrace the process of guiding and influencing your child’s education. Let your child see what loving advocacy and good citizenship looks like in action. Let your school and your legislators know you are holding them accountable by being part of the conversation.
Start with your own school district to learn how they go about the budget process, but for general information about school budgets, read:
School Budgets 101, American Association of School Administrators
Copyright ©2015 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission