NYS Exposed: Lawmakers say rural schools are getting short end of the stick

September 08, 2017 09:46 AM

State lawmakers and education advocates say it’s time for New York to more fairly support its rural schools.

A new report says hundreds of schools in areas like western New York are suffering from falling enrollment, high rates of poverty and not enough funding from the state.

New York’s rural schools make up more than half of the state’s school systems. They only get about 15 percent of the state’s aid to schools, even though they’re more likely to have “high need” students. The new research now says they’re facing long-term changes that can threaten their ability to teach.

At times, Superintendent Greg Macaluso says the money situation in Wayne County’s Williamson school system has been pretty bleak. It spends about $19,000 a year per student, which ranks it at around 550 out of 670 school systems in the state.

"Where we couldn't provide the programs that we need to provide for students to graduate," says Macaluso. "Students who come from impoverished families tend to have more trauma and grief in their lives, so we have to respond to that."

A new report from State Association of School Business, officials says rural schools across New York face a continuing crisis.  In just the past ten years, almost 85 percent of rural schools have seen their enrollment drop at least ten percent.

At the same time, the poverty rate for rural students has gone up almost 30 percent. Williamson’s has gone up 50 percent in only four years. And the association says financial support from the state falls short. Lawmakers like senators Rich Funke and Patrick Gallivan tell News10NBC they’re pushing for funding reforms and updates to the formulas for where the state’s “foundation aid” money goes to help local schools.

“The leadership of the state was largely held by downstate interests and there was a pretty substantial shortfall in the state budget, a gap," says Senator Gallivan. "And, ultimately, one of the ways to solve it was to take money from upstate schools while the New York city school districts stayed whole."

They say a big part of the money problem dates to the financial crunch of 2009/2010. The business leaders and the state regents have called for school systems to pool their resources, share costs and work together with entities like BOCES.


"The things that will be important going forward will be the same things that drove that in the past," says Scott Bishoping, superintendent of Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES. "Lack of enough students to warrant certain types of programming makes it so that a BOCES can help those districts combine as well as help them share the burden in terms of costs at the same time."

But other ideas, like merging small district high schools into regional high schools that can together support valuable programs, have to be approved by the legislature and haven’t made it through yet.

Gallivan says his fellow lawmakers now want to push to better balance state funding, especially for the neediest districts, but that the state has to give schools more flexibility to try new approaches in their changing environment, too.

"There's things that we can do," says Gallivan. "But I think we need to get to it and I think for some of these school districts, because of the enrollment, it's getting very critical now and their very existence becomes called into question."

Gallivan says only within the last year have lawmakers managed to undo some of the harshest cuts that date back to 2010.

The next time lawmakers get together, he says he has hope that there can be new action to look at aid inequalities, so that rural schools can get more of the help they need.


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