Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul announced historic state funding to Yonkers schools for the 2022-2023 school year. This aid is part of Governor Hochul’s unprecedented investment in education in the FY 2023 Enacted Budget. Those investments include a statewide school aid increase of $2.1 billion, including a $1.5 billion increase in Foundation Aid and a $125 million increase in pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children. Additionally, the Budget provides $100 million in matching funds to provide academic and mental health supports for students and educators.
VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
B-ROLL of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Buenas Tardes. It’s great to be here. Hola. Kelsey, that’s quite a claim, the most significant, the most highest achieving urban school in America. And it’s happening right here. And I want to thank you. We had a chance to talk to your eighth grade class about everyone’s ambitions and their goals and how I was in eighth grade when I decided that I wanted to be on a path toward public service. It was my eighth grade social studies teacher, Mr. Peter James, at my public school. We had just taken a trip to Washington D.C. I had a chance to see our nation’s Capitol and I said, maybe someday, now this is kind of out there, maybe someday I could actually be a staffer for a Senator someday.
That’s a true story. Because when you’re in eighth grade and you’re heading off to high school, everybody starts saying, what do you want to be when you grow up? Well, I wanted to be an FBI agent but they told me I was too short, so okay, that was ruled out. And I decided, well, I’ll just get everybody off my back and I’ll say, I’m going to be a staffer on Capitol Hill. I achieved that when I was about 27 and the rest has been made up since then.
So I wanted her to know that I also believed that eighth graders and students have great capacity to give. And their talking about their way of promoting equity and inclusion in their classrooms and speaking about issues that we did not address when we were younger. And I believe that that is part of the transformation, diversity, equity, and conclusion, to be talked about by eighth grade students to set them on a path to achieve those goals as they carry on with their lives after they leave the classroom.
So I was really inspired to hear that that is one of the priorities at this fantastic school. So thank you, Kelsey, for your work. And I look forward to seeing what you do in the future.
She asked me where I went to college, so I said maybe you can go there as well. We are very fortunate to be here. Also in the home of our Majority Leader for the New York State Senate, a person of great courage and intellect and compassion. And that is our Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Always happy to be back with the Mayor, Mayor Spano of the City of Yonkers. We’ve had many conversations about what we can do collaboratively because this was not always the case – local government and state government working together. I know that, because when I was in local government, I was constantly complaining about state government, so I know what that’s like. But hopefully that’s history and not the present anymore.
And someone I’ve mentioned a number of times, we really deepened our relationship through the pandemic and dealing with those challenges. And that is our County Executive, who brought me many times to see the incredible system he set up. The vaccination center, which was really a very wonderful place, there was music and this sense of like, wow, this is a great place to be. There was such an anxiety here as being one of the epicenters of the pandemic right here in Westchester County.
George Latimer, I want to continue to thank you for your extraordinary leadership as our County Executive.
As we talk about the great success of the Yonkers city schools, and I just talked to the Superintendent, [this district’s success shows that] leadership does matter because a lot of school districts, okay, you get a certain amount of money and you know you’re supposed to teach students, but what makes the difference? And I believe it starts in our classrooms with incredible teachers and our principals and our administrators, but it takes someone to empower them and to make them feel that they’re part of, not a problem but the solution, which is to give every young person the highest quality education that is capable of being given. And I want to thank our school Superintendent, Superintendent for over seven years, making a difference every single day, Dr. Edwin Quesada, Dr. Quesada.
I have amazing partners at the state level as well, Senator Shelley Mayer, who is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee out there fighting for every single dollar that has shown up in our budget, our Assemblymember Gary Pretlow, I don’t know if Gary’s here or not. I think he’s going to be joining us. As well as Nader Sayegh, I want to thank him for being such a friend and ally and a real fighter for your district, a true fighter.
So we’ve been to Yonkers a lot lately. Please don’t tell all the other cities. We were here dealing with the Ukrainian relief just a few months ago, back in March. And I had a chance to sit down with the Mayor. Back in October, we were here to tour Hurricane Ida damage. You remember that Leader? That was heartbreaking to see. You know, Mother Nature was really unhappy with Westchester County that day.
But also traveling this community has just been a high honor and no matter where I go, when I hear about Westchester, there is a huge sense of pride about having the best students, the best teachers, the best schools.
And it doesn’t matter the socioeconomic status as a community, it’s about the leadership as I mentioned. So a school like this, that on paper is not a wealthy school district, they’re getting the same or even better results than other districts that are more affluent. This is a story that is powerful locally, but it’s also one that inspires other school districts and says if they can do it in Yonkers, with a beautifully diverse community, a lot of new Americans settling here, a huge sense of pride for us, but people where English is not the first language and they may have strikes against them because they don’t have necessarily the highest paying jobs from the get go. Maybe their children will, but not when they first arrive and yet they succeed.
They surpass all expectations and have over 90 percent graduation rate that is astounding to me. And I want everyone to know. Please give that a round of applause.
So you’re doing your work right here. You’re doing your work and we have to do ours at the state level. That means making sure you have every dollar you need to continue to transform, not just schools, but the lives of our students and to put them on a path of great opportunity and their ability to make contributions to their community when they’re older.
That’s what’s going on here and that is why I find this so exciting. That’s why I’m so proud to have just signed a budget, supported a budget that has the highest investment in education in our state’s history. $31.5 billion in aid, and I’m going to repeat that $31.5 billion to help transform the lives of our children. Every penny is worth it. Every penny is worth it. That’s a $2 billion increase, over 7% increase over just the prior year.
So that is also going to continue fully funding, something called Foundation Aid. You know what I’m talking about? This is a battle. This has been a Battle Royale for a long time. And it was decided that communities like Yonkers and others needed extra help. And that help was denied for far too long, so we settled the lawsuit. We put the money in the budget. We’re going to continue doing this until we make these communities whole with the Foundation Aid they deserve. So we’re going to continue doing that as well.
So Superintendent, how does $360 million for your school district sound. Would you take that? All right, thought you would. $360 million, that’s an increase of over $25 million. And that’s incredible, $246 million for Foundation Aid, another 5% increase over the previous year. So you’re already setting records, we’re setting records. And now the question is how can we continue creating opportunities for New Yorkers?
And our budget doesn’t just talk about the money coming to districts. It’s also about investing in the teachers. And when I was back in my public school growing up, there were a lot of people who wanted to be teachers. I mean, a lot of women there, the only job they had, and you could be a teacher, maybe a nurse, because you got to take care of the kids.
There’s no support, there’s no childcare. So options for women were limited at the time. And a lot of people went into this incredible profession, a lot of my family members, but we’re not seeing the same numbers go into those fields anymore. So contrast to when they were almost too many teachers a generation ago.
Now we have a real shortage, a real shortage of teachers in our classrooms, and that’s not sustainable. And there are teachers, others, who might’ve been close to retirement, or just the pandemic, just like our healthcare workers, may just think this is just really tough. And they moved on. We have to replace them. But how do we rebuild this system quickly? Because our students are sitting there right now needing teachers to this day.
So, we’re going to continue focusing on how we can help our teachers, help existing teachers, help recruit more teachers, and also help our teachers who are dealing with something they could not have foreseen before the pandemic is that students in their classrooms, that some of them are doing just fine, they’re learning, they’re thriving, but you strip them away from that nurturing environment for nearly two years, and now you’re back at home and every home was different. Some people had tutors taking care of their kids, making sure that they had everything. The password was right, they could turn on, the device. The classroom was there in their home. Other kids didn’t have broadband at home. They didn’t have the internet. They might’ve had one cell phone that the family, and I’ve heard this story, multiple children were sharing this to try and learn on a cell phone all day long. Can you imagine staring at this all day and saying that that was your education?
Now, people did the best they could. What was the alternative? A lot of fear, anxiety, a pandemic. We didn’t know what we were dealing with and the teachers were absolutely incredible and what they had to endure, but the students paid a price and we’re feeling the effects today. That is why we had to put money in our budget to help provide mental health support in the classroom. That’s something else we achieved.
We also need money for preschool. This is the game changer in many children’s lives. This makes all the difference, whether in some places they’re sitting in front of a television or a video game for their early childhood years and calling that an existence versus being in an educational environment with trained professionals. For parents, especially the moms trying to get back to work and having preschool for your children, you don’t have to worry about them. You don’t have to worry about who’s going to take care of them, they’re in a safe place. So we added another $125 million to fund full day pre-kindergarten and that’s going to make 20,000 new seats available.
Also, retraining and recruiting our teachers and rebuilding and expanding the workforce, creating a state teacher residency program, bringing more teachers into the schools earlier while they’re still in school.
Don’t wait until they’re done, bring them in earlier and create a connection with the local school that can develop relationships before they have their degrees. There’s a higher chance that they’re going to want to stay there. They’ve developed relationships, friendships, mentors. That’s what we’re going to focus on as well.
So this is before they begin their careers, they’re going to have the support. We’re going to expand alternative teacher certification programs, make it easier for professionals and other careers to become teachers, and grants for paraprofessionals already employed in school districts.
How about incentivizing some of our retired teachers to come back? Now, I believe that there’s a lot of talented individuals out there. Just waive some of the restrictions, like on pensions. Don’t let that be a barrier to coming back and using your talents and the passion you still have for teaching. Why not use it now?
Also, we’re making sure that we can bring teachers from elsewhere, other states, breaking down some of the barriers, people want to move to our state and make their skills and their certificates more transferable.
We talked about our classrooms, education, teachers, mental health, but there’s also a long-term effect related to our environment, and something like school buses, and a lot of children stand there waiting to get on a bus, they’re breathing in the fumes. A lot of kids have asthma. This is not healthy. So why don’t we electrify all the school buses? Save millions of dollars in energy costs, gas pumps are going up through the roof, the price of gas at the pump. But also to make the environment even cleaner. So all new school bus purchases will be zero emissions by the year 2027, and all school buses on the road, new buses by 2035. So that’s an investment we’re making there.
I’ll also talk about what we have at the other end of the pipeline, for people like Kelsey. Investing in higher education, because you have to know that this is not going to be so far out of reach because it’s too expensive. That doesn’t give you a dream of getting that degree if you just think it’s never going to happen. What we realized, so many students are going to be figuring out how to pay for their community college, for example. They work one semester, they put that money aside, they can pay for tuition the next semester. Go to school, stop, go back to work, make money for the next one. Is there any wonder it takes so long for people to get a two-year or four-year degree when they have to pay for it that way? Not everybody has a 529 plan put there since they’re born, that’s a rarity in many communities. So tuition assistance, only available for full-time students. Didn’t make sense. We changed that in this budget, and I thank my partners once. Now, tuition assistance is available for part time students, it should have always been the way we’re putting the money behind that as well.
So these are just some of the areas that I came here for, I’m so excited, I’m proud of this school district. I’m proud of everyone who’s part of this whole ecosystem because your graduates, the students in K through eight, all the way up through high school, they have a chance. They have a chance not just to survive, they have an opportunity to thrive, and that is why these investments made sense. It was the right thing to do. That’s the question we ask ourselves every single day, “What is best for New Yorkers? What is best for our children, and what is best for their future?” And I believe this transformative budget accomplishes just that. So thank you very much for supporting us.
Thank you for welcoming us here, this incredible school today. And with that, let me bring up our Majority Leader, Yonkers’ own, Andrea Stewart-Cousins.