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Sullivan schools among most impoverished upstate

NEW YORK — Not long before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $956 million proposed boost in education funding, a report showed children from two districts in Sullivan County are among the most impoverished in the region.

Fallsburg Central School District (FCSD) ranked number two in a list of the 50 most economically disadvantaged upstate school districts, compiled by from Census Bureau data. According to the data, 48.2 percent of school-aged children—meaning children between the ages of 5 and 17—fall below the poverty rate in FCSD. According to Census Bureau data, there are 1,503 school-aged children in the district, and 725 are living below the poverty level. The Livingston Manor Central School District (LMCSD) was 29th on the list, with a 34.8 percent school-age poverty rate and 177 out of 509 school-aged children living below the poverty level.

One of the biggest challenges rural schools and communities face, said Livingston Manor superintendent John Evans, is in providing “wraparound services” for children who don’t have access to medical, dental, or counseling services otherwise. 

“If a family doesn’t have a reliable means of transportation, it can result in children missing out on many of these needed services,” he said. “Districts with high student poverty rates try and provide as many of these wraparound services as possible for our students. However, they are expensive, and without adequate funding from outside sources they are hard to get off the ground and sustain.”

“If a family doesn’t have a reliable means of transportation, it can result in children missing out on many of these needed services."

Funding for public education in New York State has long been a point of contention, with districts and government officials going back and forth over how much money is necessary to provide evenly for districts throughout the state.

“The current formulas and the factors used in [in determining the distribution of funds] don’t seem to work fairly for rural schools,” Evans said. He is also superintendent of the Roscoe Central School District, which he said is looking at a large drop in aid due to what he considers inappropriate math. “According to the formulas, [Roscoe CSD] is considered a wealthy district. I can assure you it is not a wealthy district, and the drop in aid is going to be a challenge to overcome.”

This comes on the tail of Gov. Cuomo vetoing legislation that would have spared Roscoe from financial penalties due to misfiled paperwork.

Of the 4.6 million children living in New York State, nearly half are part of families considered low income, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP). On average, families in the United States need an income of twice the federal poverty level to afford basic living essentials, such as food, shelter and household supplies. That federal poverty level is currently $40,000 a year for a family of four.

The 2019-20 budget proposal for education includes a $956 million boost in education spending, which would make the total $27.7 billion. Cuomo noted, in response to criticism that the increase wasn’t enough, that the state already spends more than twice the national average per student. The problem he said in his State of the State Address, isn’t the amount of money given, but where it’s going. The superintendents of Livingston Manor and Fallsburg agree. “I think the funding formula is a statewide point of contention that has no easy answers relative to changing it,” Fallsburg superintendent Ivan Katz said.

“New York State provides 70 percent of its funding to the poorer districts,” Cuomo said, addressing a crowd on January 19. “We believed that meant we were funding the poorer schools. Well, [we] weren’t. [We] were funding the poorer districts. And then, the districts turned around and decided how to distribute the funds. And they did not distribute the funds to the poorer schools. That assumption was flawed.”

See a breakdown of the state's budget here.

Cuomo said that he is introducing a new formula for determining financial distribution called the “Education Equity Formula,” which would better distribute money to economically disadvantaged schools within poorer districts.

The proposed budget also comes with a $50 million Foundation Aid set-aside for schools identified as failing or persistently failing, or districts with extraordinary growth in English language learners.

Katz said his district, with a number of students who speak English as a second language, would benefit from that funding. 

Additionally, Cuomo is proposing a $76.56 million increase in transportation reimbursements this year. Evans noted that increase, because it’s a reimbursement, is a result of districts increased transportation utilization.

The budget is not final, of course, and as negotiations persist in the state legislature, education advocates expect that the aid will continue to rise. Evans said, for the benefit of his district, he hopes that remains true.

“The final aid numbers for schools usually end up more favorable for our local school districts,” he said. “While we are seeing a slight increase in the initial runs, we are hopeful that the end result is a bit better.”


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