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Advocates applaud Regents school aid increase request

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The state Board of Regents has recommended that an additional $2.1 billion be spent on schools next year, and that a 12-year-old court order to fully fund schools be phased in over the next three years.

The proposal is being applauded by school funding advocacy groups.

The Educational Conference Board includes teachers, school superintendents, school board members and the PTA, among other groups. Board chair John Yagielski said the more than $2 billion in additional funding that the Regents is recommending is needed to finally obey a 2006 order by the state’s highest court.

That ruling said that New York must spend more money on the state’s poorest schools to fulfill a constitutional mandate to ensure that every student receives an adequate education. 

Yagielski said in the 12 years since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case was decided by the New York Court of Appeals, things have gotten worse for the state’s poorest and most vulnerable children.

“While we’ve had a decrease in overall enrollment, we’ve had an increase in the neediest students, by significant amounts,” Yagielski said.

Since the 2007-08 school year, the number of children receiving free and reduced price lunches has grown by 15 percent. There’s been an 18 percent increase in students who need to learn English while in school, and the number of disabled students has gone up by 14 percent.

The Educational Conference Board agrees with the Regents that an additional $1.5 billion needs to be placed in the state’s Foundation Aid formula over the next three years. That fund targets spending on the state’s neediest districts.

Marina Marcou-O’Malley with the Alliance for Quality Education, a school funding advocacy group partly funded by the teachers union, said schools in poorer areas can’t draw on additional property tax levies to fund schools the way that richer districts can.

“When you see those school districts, who have 70 or 80 percent poverty and are primarily black and brown, they do not have the same resources as their affluent counterparts have,” Marcou-O’Malley said.

For the past several years, the advocates, along with the Regents, have recommended that the court order be fulfilled. And for years, the final state budget has included increases in state aid to schools, but not at the amount determined by the court.

Among those resisting the additional spending is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has repeatedly said “more money is not the answer” for public education. 

Marcou-O’Malley said there’s a good chance, though, that 2019 could be different. Democrats will hold a definitive majority in the state Senate, and many of them, along with the Democrats who control the Assembly, support the increased school aid.

“It’s a clear indication that there’s going to be a brand-new day in Albany,” she said.

Yagielski agreed.

“It certainly, from a political point of view, is going to be a very different arrangement,” he said.

The group also wants to make changes to the state’s property tax cap and allow for a true 2 percent increase in school taxes each year, if local school boards think the extra money is necessary.

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.