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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tue, Oct 23, 2007

Regents Want School Aid Hike

By Cara Matthews, Star Gazette

ALBANY -- The state Board of Regents wants to boost school aid by $1.94 billion in 2008-09 and funnel a larger percentage of the money to high-needs districts, Education Commissioner Richard Mills announced Monday.

Currently, poor districts receive 65 percent of foundation aid, the largest state education grant. The Regents want to send 73 percent of the increase in foundation aid -- $1.8 billion of the $1.94 billion -- to the poorest school systems. New York City would get $783 million, or 44 percent, for a total of $8.1 billion in state aid. At the same time, every school district would see an increase of at least 2 percent, Mills said.

The additional funding would build on "the historic reform in state aid enacted last year," Mills said, referring to the largest one-time hike in education funding -- $1.8 billion, to $19.5 billion. The state consolidated about 30 programs into a new foundation aid formula last year to simplify the funding process.

"It also continues to focus on urban education, particularly New York City and the Big 4 (Rochester, Yonkers, Buffalo and Syracuse)," said Robert Bennett, chancellor of the Board of Regents.

The Regents' plan also includes a request for an additional $104 million, for a total of $535 million, to fund pre-kindergarten classes around the state. This year's funding can only go toward half-day programs, but the additional money could help pay for full-day pre-kindergarten and transportation.

"New York is well on its way to providing this opportunity for all children," Mills said.

"In many school districts, we have a strong base in half-day but the need is clearly for full-day, and so the Regents are going to pursue that," he added.

Additional funding for pre-kindergarten in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years provided enough slots for 76,000 more kids, for a total of about 125,000 kids. The money being proposed for next year would fund up to 34,000 more slots, according to the Education Department.

A lot of districts, particularly large urban ones and high-need rural districts, have determined it's necessary to provide full-day services, according to Johanna Duncan-Poitier of the Department of Education. Some school systems have open half-day pre-kindergarten slots and waiting lists for full-day classes, she said.

"Working parents, particularly in the poorer neighborhoods, want full-day pre-k and, of course, the achievement results are greater there as well," she said.

Transportation is optional for pre-kindergarten, and about 50 percent of districts provide it. In those cases, they use limited grant money or local funds to support it.

School districts were seeking full-day pre-kindergarten during the last session, so the budget proposal is a recognition of "what the reality is for children and families," said Karen Schimke, president and CEO of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy.

"I think that there's sufficient resources in what they're proposing to both do some expansion and at the same time start to offer some flexibility in full day," she said.

The Regents make spending recommendations, but Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Legislature decide on a budget. The deadline for doing that is April 1.

Other highlights of their proposal are:

•Increase financial support for non-native speakers of English by giving more weight in the funding formula to those students. The extra money could be used to create two-way/dual-language programs, professional development for mainstream teachers and administrators, literacy programs for English-speaking immigrant students, special services for non-native English speakers whose formal education has been interrupted, and other initiatives.

•Provide $6 million competitive grants for career and technical education. The goal is to enroll 20,000 more students vocational-education programs that allow them to get a Regents diploma and an industry-approved credential. Only 22 percent of high-school students have access to career and technical education programs now.

The Education Department is expected to approve Contracts for Excellence in the next few weeks. They are required for 56 high-needs school districts that received significant aid increases this year and have under-performing students. The contracts identify specific areas for improvement, such as reducing class size and providing full-day kindergarten, and hold the districts accountable for improving student achievement.

The Alliance for Quality Education and Campaign for Fiscal Equity support the Regents' school-aid proposal but would like changes to the Contracts for Excellence regulations, said Billy Easton, executive director of the alliance. There should be a standard form for all contracts, a specific complaint process, clear procedures and deadlines for public participation and other changes, he said.


Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation 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 state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >