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School Funding Advocates Say Budget Surplus Should Go To Schools

Karen DeWitt

Education funding advocates say they have a use for the recently announced $4.2 billion New York State surplus. They say schools in New York, particularly the state’s poorest schools, could really use the money.

The Alliance for Quality Education’s Billy Easton says New York has fallen far behind in carrying out an order issued eight years ago form the state’s highest court saying schools, particularly the poorest districts,  deserve billions of dollars more in state funding each year.

“This is money that is due to schools that has never been paid,” Easton said.

Easton says a recently announced state surplus of over $4 billion dollars, from settlements with banks and insurance companies, should be used to fill the gap that his group says has grown to nearly $6 billion . The group recommends a four year phase in.

“Do it in a way that prioritizes high need districts,” Easton urged.

The court issued the ruling that the state’s school funding system violated children’s constitutional rights to a “sound basic education” in 2006. In 2007, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer devised a phase-in plan to provide the schools with the additional funds, but then the recession hit. Current Governor Andrew Cuomo inherited a $10 billion deficit three years ago, and he has not fully funded schools under the court’s terms.

Cuomo has often said that he doesn’t believe that simply spending more money can solve the state’s education problems, but he has said that one of the uses of the surplus could be more money for schools.

“We could do more to invest in education ,” the governor said on August 5.   

Cuomo also says the state’s crumbling infrastructure needs more investment, and he’d also like to use some of the surplus to cut taxes.

The legislature has added more money for school funding in the past two years. The Senate and Assembly agreed to increase school aid by half a billion dollars in the current state budget. But Schenectady Schools Superintendent Larry Spring, as well as leaders of other of the state’s poorest schools, say it’s not enough. Spring says the gap in funding has led to “significantly elevated” property taxes in the city, and “dramatic staff cuts” of 120 positions last year and 60 this year.  

Spring says his district is so poor that every child is eligible for the free lunch program. He says services like social workers, guidance counselors and tutors for reading and writing are important for children who live in poverty. But he says many of those positions are gone.

“All kinds of things that support kids and their success have had to go by the wayside,” Spring said. “As we pare and pare back.”

The education funding advocates, who were joined by some Democratic state lawmakers, say in addition to greater commitment from Cuomo, they’d also like to see legislative leaders fight for the billions of dollars needed for the state to finally obey the court order.  

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