New York Proposition 1
Remove Debt Limit on Small City School Districts Amendment
During the upcoming general election, voters will be asked to decide whether to change an archaic provision in the state constitution related to the permitted debt levels for capital projects for small city school districts. This will appear on the ballot as Proposition 1 and represents a crucial opportunity to reshape the educational landscape by providing the States 57 small city school districts the ability to operate within the same debt level limits that are available to the 650-plus remaining school districts in New York State.
Inequity: Different Rules for Different Schools
Currently, small city school districts in NYS cannot incur debt in excess of 5% of their average full value of taxable real estate, except with approval by more than 60% of voters, the Board of Regents, and the State Comptroller. These parameters are constitutionally prescribed.
On the other hand, rural and suburban districts benefit from a 10% limit that is set by local finance law. In addition to having a higher debt ceiling, they are also permitted to deduct costs reimbursed through State Building Aid from their limit, which is not permitted for small city school districts.
Why it Matters
These differences put small city school districts at a significant disadvantage in maintaining and improving their school facilities and addressing critical health and safety needs. Statewide, the impact of these disparities falls heavily upon students from minority and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is time for this inequity against small city school districts to change. The tighter restrictions are a relic of a time prior to 1997 when small city school districts were not required to seek voter approval for annual operating budgets, and there was no property tax cap.
The proposition has widespread bipartisan support, passing by 60-2 in the Senate and receiving unanimous support (145-0) in the Assembly. Notably, it has also received endorsements from the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA), and New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS).
In a recent significant development, Governor Kathy Hochul has endorsed and supported Proposition 1, signing the bill that rectifies the debt limit disparity, S.6549/A.7049, into law on October 25, 2023. The law will take effect if Proposition 1 receives majority support from voters, further emphasizing the statewide significance of addressing these inequities. However, still as the general election nears, the public still knows little about it and its impact on small city school districts.
It is important to understand that this proposition does not change the local control school district voters currently have over capital projects and annual school budget spending. It simply places all school districts on equal footing by allowing them to operate under the same rules and strengthens the level of local voter control over decisions related to debt.
I encourage you to help shape the educational future of New York by casting your vote on this important proposal. Early voting is available from October 28 through November 5, and polling locations are open on November 7. Your vote truly matters!
Video courtesy of NYS Association of Small City School Districts, Inc.
What is NY Prop 1?