Lawmakers debate bumping up school aid as part of budget talks

School districts on Long Island have taken huge financial hits from the pandemic, but state lawmakers are debating funding increases as part of budget talks.
If you look at your property tax bill, you'll see the biggest single-dollar figure is for school taxes. They account for nearly two-thirds of the average tax bill on Long Island.
It's for that reason why the amount of school aid that districts get from the state every year is a big deal -- because the more they get, the less they have to ask of taxpayers.
As state budget talks enter their final stages, both the state Senate and Assembly are proposing school aid hikes of more than 6%. Those numbers can change, but school officials say any increase would help offset cuts and losses school districts experienced last year.
"The costs to start up were incredible. Millions of dollars were invested in whether it was shields, distancing, in technology for virtual learning. Millions of dollars were spent," says Nassau BOCES District Superintendent Robert Dillon.
In Long Island's largest school district, Brentwood, Superintendent Richard Loeschner says he'd like extra funding to rehire employees who were laid off.
"We had to do quite a bit of reducing of staff – critical staff in terms of development of kids in the elementary, middle and high school," says Loeschner. "We had to reduce many of those staff members. So we're looking to add those back in to help our students."
As for where the money is coming from, a good chunk is from Washington. In the recently passed stimulus plan, states were given billions of dollars to be used for schools. Since that's a one-time infusion of cash, some are warning school districts to set aside as much as possible as reserve funds.
The numbers could change though -- legislators are proposing substantially more in aid than the governor is.
In terms of the federal money earmarked for education, districts with a higher percentage of students whose families are living in poverty get a higher percentage of aid.
A new budget has to be in place by April 1.