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Cuomo school aid hike doesn't please everyone

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing an increase in school aid of over three-quarters of a billion dollars, a rise of about 3 percent over last year, but some say that’s not enough to meet school districts’ rising costs.

The $769 million hike is about half of the increase that schools ultimately received in last year’s budget. Cuomo, in his budget presentation to the state Legislature, said he anticipates some blowback.

“Everyone is going to say to you what they say to me, ‘I want more.’ That is the constant refrain. ‘I want more for education. I want more for health care. I want more for infrastructure. I want more for mental health.’ And everybody's right,” Cuomo said. “But everybody's wrong. It's a question of balancing resources.”

Cuomo said with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit and uncertainties in funding from Washington, spending needs to be lower this year.

The pro-school funding group Alliance for Quality Education, in a statement, accused Cuomo of “perpetuating educational racism and economic inequality” for not including billions of additional dollars to comply with a decade-and-a-half-old court order to fully fund schools in poorer school districts.

The New York State Board of Regents has recommended that funding be increased by $1.6 billion this year. The State School Boards Association’s Tim Kremer said schools need the additional aid because their costs are rising.

“We’re not just trying to be greedy, and we recognize it’s a tough budget year,” Kremer said.

But Kremer said most of the additional money proposed by the governor is earmarked for mandatory programs. And he said the teachers’ retirement system has already notified schools that they will have to contribute more to the pension system, which could total an additional $200 million next year.

The head of the state’s Business Council, Heather Briccetti, said the state already spends more than most other states on education, but does not rank among the top-rated schools in the nation.

“We are not number one in terms of results,” Briccetti said. “There’s definitely a lot of savings to be had.”

Republican state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who led the Senate Education Committee for several years, said he might go along with the governor’s proposal, given that it’s a tight budget year.

“That’s a lot of money,” Flanagan said.

He said other parts of government, like the environment or transportation departments, “would all graciously welcome 3 percent, especially in a year like this.”

The Legislature traditionally adds money to school aid in the final version of the budget, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he expects his house will do that.

“Education and health care are to Assembly members like your brother and your sister,” Heastie said. “You love them both and you want to do more.”

But he said if lawmakers want to add to the governor’s budget, they are going to have to find more revenues, on top of the $1.3 billion in new taxes and fees that Cuomo has already proposed. And he admits that will be challenging.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.