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Public school advocates say $91 million 'owed to us'

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Again this year, it looks as if state aid for schools will be the major source of problems in buttoning down a state budget by the end of the week when the current budget expires.

Back before the Great Recession, then-Gov. Eliot Spizer put together a long-range plan for what was called Foundation Aid so districts would know a few years in advance how much state aid they could count on. Then, the economy went south and the foundation crumbled.

School districts, teacher unions and parent groups have been fighting ever since to recover the cash they lost in the economic mess, totaling more than $4 billion and they want it now. Buffalo alone would gain $91 million if all that money rained down.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore was outside State Senator Chris Jacobs' office Monday demanding the cash.

"The governor's budget does away with the existing formula. What that means is that that money that is owed to us, $4 billion, is no longer owed to us," Rumore said. "So the governor and the Senate's budget does away with the existing formula, which means that that money that is owed to us disappears."

Activist teacher Eve Shippens said the money shortage shows up in many ways, like in Bennett Park Montessori with parent friends.

"Who are very upset about over school-based budget. They have to choose between instrumental music and vocal music. So this is a choice that a lot of our district schools are facing," she said. "There's not enough money to offer a rich arts program. All research says that arts is very important for academic success."

International Prep 11th grader Isabella Anarante said the additional money would help her school.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"With $91 million owed to the Buffalo Public Schools, it would make such a difference if we got it," she said. "For instance, my class has to constantly hold fundraisers for class trips or small events. We need this money for more language classes, our SAT classes or even better arts, like music class."

Jacobs said there is a lot more money coming in the new budget, with the totals clear once there is a final budget. In a written statement, the Buffalo Republican said he opposes changing the Foundation Aid formula.

“I am extremely proud that the Senate one house budget resolution I supported makes the largest financial investment in education in New York State history.  It calls for a record level of $25.4 billion in education funding, and more than doubles the Governor’s proposed foundation aid increase," Jacobs' statement read.

Besides demanding the $91 million, the activists also do not want the spending cap on charter schools removed by Albany, since that would cost Buffalo schools nearly $6 million more.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.