Press-Republican

January 24, 2013

NY Gov.'s education plans get lukewarm response

CAROLYN THOMPSON
Associated Press

BUFFALO — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to spend 4.4 percent more on schools next year received a lukewarm reception Wednesday from educators and advocates who praised some of the planned initiatives but said funding would remain short of what it should be under a landmark court ruling six years ago.

Cuomo's budget plan for the fiscal year that starts April 1 includes a 3 percent increase — about $610 million — in education aid plus $203 million to offset high pension contribution costs. An additional $75 million would go toward initiatives highlighted in his State of the State address.

Total spending would rise by $889 million — about $300 per student, according to Cuomo.

"It takes many steps in the right direction," said New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi, "but we still need to address years of inequality and the state's failure to meet its legal obligation, in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, to address the achievement gap by investing more in its low-wealth, high-need school districts."

In 2007, the state agreed to substantially increase funding for poor school districts after the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a group that sued over the financing formula.

The union said the increase outlined by Cuomo Tuesday would not make up for past budget cuts and last year's implementation of a property tax cap limiting what districts can raise.

Cuomo's office didn't comment Wednesday on the union's statements. In his budget address, the governor called the 8.6 percent total increase in his last two budget proposals "notable and significant."

"That is double the rate of inflation," Cuomo said in Tuesday's address. "That is four or five times the increase in home values during the same period of time and it's during a period of time where student enrollment has gone down."

The budget proposal "continues the downward spiral in educational opportunities that Albany has forced on local schools," said the Alliance for Quality Education, whose membership includes parents, educators and community organizations.

"Last year the state added a 4 percent school aid increase and we still lost 5,000 teachers and other educators," AQE Executive Director Billy Easton said.

Some of Cuomo's proposals will have districts competing with each other for more funding.

If approved by the Legislature, the budget proposal would have districts vying for $25 million in grants for full-day, pre-kindergarten programs and $20 million to lengthen the school day or year by 25 percent. The governor also set aside $15 million in competitive grants for community schools that integrate social and health services and $11 million for annual stipends for high-performing math and science teachers. Those initiatives were all recommended by a statewide reform commission.

Advocates warned against pitting districts against each other for grants to fund programs that all children need.

"We understand that money is tight and the focus is on performance," said Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, "but the state has a constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding to schools."

"For some of the most financially challenged districts, these grants seem like unwinnable prizes," the New York State Council of School Superintendents said.