Thu, Apr 10, 2008
Aid to schools increases sharply in spending plan
By Michael Goot, Schenectady Daily Gazette
CAPITAL REGION â€” More than $20 billion is headed to schools statewide as part of a historic aid increase in the new state budget.
The education budget includes an increase of $1.75 billion for public education to a total of $21.4 billion.
Foundation aid to local schools comprises almost $15 billion, which is an increase of $1.2 billion. Several area schools are set to get large increases in state aid â€” 9 percent more overall. Schenectady is set to receive a total of $97.3 million; Albany, $86.5 million; Shenendehowa, $45.3 million; and Amsterdam $32.5 million.
â€śEven in difficult fiscal times, we still must strive to provide critical funding for our education system,â€ť said Gov. David Paterson in a press release. â€śNew York must be ready to address both the challenges and opportunities presented by the global economy, and that means ensuring that our students have the knowledge they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.â€ť
The budget also continues the Contracts for Excellence program implemented last year. This money was distributed to 55 high-need school districts throughout the state, with objectives including reducing class sizes in the early grades and improving teaching.
Schenectady received $15.5 million in aid last year, which it used to open the new Fulton Early Childhood Learning Center, start an after-school homework help program and hire more teachers at the middle school level.
The state foundation aid formula has been changed to make sure the highest-need districts receive aid. It decreases the maximum increase that any one district can receive from 25 percent to 15 percent. A proposal to decrease the minimum foundation aid increase for districts from 3 percent to 2 percent was not implemented.
School officials were still getting the information and not all could offer comment.
Schenectady Superintendent Eric Ely said the district is actually receiving a slight decrease in aid, which was expected based on earlier numbers.
â€śItâ€™s not where we would like to be. It doesnâ€™t meet the original commitment from the governor a year ago when they first put the money forward, so weâ€™re not happy about that,â€ť he said.
He said he anticipates the district will be able to make up the slack because the state has given local districts more flexibility with the Contract for Excellence. Previously, districts could only spend contract money on new programs and now they can spend it on some of the programs they added as part of last yearâ€™s contract.
The budget also authorizes the creation of endowment funds for SUNY and CUNY. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer had proposed a privatization of the lottery to generate revenue, an idea now scratched. Director of State Operations Paul Francis said Paterson will continue to explore options for an endowment.
Higher education spending decreased by about 3 percent. Patterson had sought a decrease of 4.5 percent, but the funding was restored. Francis said the reductions can be made up through efficiencies in the system.
â€śIt in no way reflects a diminution to the commitment to higher ed. Itâ€™s just a representation of the shared sacrifice by all state agencies,â€ť he said.
Spitzer had also talked about an initiative to hire 2,000 full-time faculty at SUNY and CUNY in the next few years. Francis said he hopes the budget cuts would not affect hiring of full-time faculty.
There is also $202 million in high-tax-aid for school districts with the highest property tax burden compared to wealth.
In addition, the budget increases funding for universal pre-kindergarten to $451 million to expand the number of enrolled children from 93,000 to 121,000. Also restored in the budget is $85 million for additional programs including adult literacy education, independent living centers and libraries, according to a press release.
Other initiatives are $2 million for English language learners programs, $10 million for academic enrichment centers after school for children who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools, and $8.4 million to enhance the state Education Departmentâ€™s ability to conduct criminal history background checks and process fingerprints of prospective school employees.
New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi said the union applauded the Legislature and governor for restoring the funding amounts to the original four-year outline Spitzer laid out last year. Iannuzzi said it was a critical change to the way education is viewed.
Iannuzzi said he understood that the economy is weak but still criticized the higher education funding being $38 million less than the previous year.
â€śIf weâ€™re going to meet the needs of New York stateâ€™s economy, we have to not only bring in jobs but train the graduates to work at those jobs. Thatâ€™s why higher ed is an important part of what we do,â€ť he said.
Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Billy Easton said the organization supports that the money is going toward the best classroom practices and after-school programs. â€śWe are very optimistic that the combination of adequate funding and accountability will raise student performance and will ultimately raise graduation rates and the number of kids going to college,â€ť he said.
The group has criticized the more than $100 million it says was added to the budget to accommodate the needs of the Long Island Senate delegation and not based on student need.
Geri Palast, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said this aid agreement continues the promise to deliver the second installment of the four-year commitment to resolve 14 years of lawsuits over the adequacy of public funding of education.
â€śIt will ultimately provide a sound basic education to all public school students by driving the majority of funds through a formula based on need, subject to accountability through the Contract for Excellence with a strong public voice,â€ť Palast said in a press release.
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the stateâ€™s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >