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State Ed Department says it’s correcting funding mistake

The state Education Department has announced it made an error in the distribution of some federal funding that favored the state’s charter schools over public schools.

State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia took full responsibility for the mistake. She said a misreading of a new federal funding formula gave $12 million more to 275 charter schools in the state at the expense of 677 public school districts, including some of the poorest schools in New York.

“This is our error and we own it, we want to be upfront about it,” Elia said in a conference call with reporters. “And we will work with schools to make this as pain free as possible.”

The money came from the federal Title IIA program. It gives funds for teacher training and development. The state got $153 million, and $12 million, or about 8 percent, was misallocated, said Elia. The program represents a small fraction of the $1.6 billion in federal education aid that New York received this year.

Elia says most of the schools will be repaid in the upcoming school year, but some schools, including those in the so-called Big 5 school districts of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, will be reimbursed over a two-year period. Elia says it will take four years to pay New York City back.

The charter schools will not be required to return any money, but Elia said they will receive smaller amounts of funding in future years to make up the difference.

The commissioner said none of the schools noticed the error; it was discovered by staff at the Education Department, and she said no one at the department will be punished for the mistake.

“We actually found this ourselves,” said Elia.

The error and corrections come at a time when the Trump administration is planning to cut New York’s share of the teacher training money by $60 million.

A spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association responded in a statement, saying, “There’s no way around the fact that mistakes can occur in any organization, even when best efforts are made to keep them to a minimum” and crediting the commissioner for owning up to the error.

Spokesman Al Marlin said the schools are “pleased to hear” that most districts “will be made whole for any shortfall” that occurred.

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.