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NYSNYS NEWS: Citing improved economy and growing needs, school advocates calls for $1.9 billion increase in state aide to districts in 2015.
NYSNYS NEWS: Citing improved economy and growing needs, school advocates calls for $1.9 billion increase in state aide to districts in 2015.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 13) – Preserving the status quo for programs and services in New York's public schools will require at least a $1.2 billion increase in state aid in 2015, education advocates said Thursday.

"New York's public education system is succeeding," New York State United Teachers union vice president Andrew Pallotta said. "We have the best public schools in our country … but our students and our schools have critical needs."

He said 53 percent of school districts are receiving less state aid than they did a few years ago, and the new "undemocratic" 2 percent tax cap put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators has put constraints on how much money can be raised from local taxpayers.

Pallotta and other members of the NYS Educational Conference Board – which includes school board members, district administrators, teachers union leaders and the PTA – said Cuomo and the Legislature also need to make up for lost ground since the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008. At the same time, higher standards are being rolled out without new funds to pay for them.

To meet the challenge, the Conference Board said schools need a $1.9 billion overall increase in the amount of money provided by the state to public schools. Charter schools are also public schools but are funded differently, do not have to be unionized or pay into the state teachers pension system, and are ineligible for building aid and similar assistance.

"We're talking here about a whole number of (school reform) initiatives that have been put in place and are going to be put in place," said John Yagielski, a well known Albany area school superintendent. "Where would they be funded from?"

"For the last several years we've gone to the state seeking their partnership and what we hear is the foundation aid is frozen, the gap elimination adjustment is in place and that's going to cut from what you are owed in state aid (and) you are going to have your property taxes frozen," said Tim Kremer, director of the New York State School Boards Association.

"That has been the response we've gotten that we've had to live with for now six years, but things have changed," he said. "We now have these billions of dollars in settlements from banks and insurance companies. We do have a new resurgence in our economy. There are a number of things that we should be able to rely on from the state in order to have that partnership we've sought all along."

"New York’s fiscal condition has improved significantly, aided by a strengthening economy and recent financial settlements," the Conference Board said in a memo released at Thursday's press conference. "Schools now have a growing body of experience with education change initiatives. The upcoming state budget process provides the opportunity to turn the corner from the toughest fiscal challenges of the recent past, and fund education in a manner that is adequate, equitable and stable so that schools may make sustainable progress."

"The ability to do this is in sight – more so than at any other time in recent years," the Conference Board said, referring to the tight budgets that followed the 2008 financial crisis and its subsequent impact on state and local governments.

The group said that the state needed to:

• "Maintain all current programs and services for students for the 2015-16 school year: This alone would require an estimated $1.2 billion increase in state aid."

• "Accelerate a plan to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment and return to a functioning Foundation Aid formula: Any formula used for general operating aid must be based on sound principles that include adequacy, equity, pre- dictability, flexibility, and transparency."

• "Make progress on new initiatives critical to the success of our students and our state: These include building capacity to meet state-of-the-art academic standards, expanding access to Career and Technical Education and full-day pre-kindergarten."