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Small wording change has big effect on school spending

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With no prior notice, Buffalo Public Schools on Wednesday unanimously approved a fundamental change in education, a change the school board wants to put into effect in the fall of next year.

Balancing how school budgets are spent is a complicated issue. That is particularly true this year when city schools are looking at slashing of state school aid to reflect the COVID-19 crisis. That might knock $200 million off aid to Buffalo.

School Board President Sharon Belton Cottman rammed through a fundamental change during a meeting held virtually, not in person. While the change in wording from "equitable" to "equity" seems small, it is large in this context.

"Providing every student with an opportunity for equitable access to high-quality, cultural-relevant instruction," she read. "Effective immediately, where possible, create a baseline standard of what the educational equity experience will encompass and be further developed to include every student within the BPS district."

The premise is that spending will be changed. It will not be equal for each student, but each student will get what is needed to succeed. This will require changes in the way the district is run.

"That equity and equality exist with comparable standards and oversight for all children," Belton Cottman read. "This oversight also includes resources disbursed and contributory to privately controlled entities such as charters and other private schools. Whereas the board acknowledges that additional practices must be developed in order to achieve equity and that equitable practices should be prioritized."

Board Member Ann Rivera said the shift is essential.

"Equity is critical to student achievement, that in order to achieve, for all of our students to achieve, for our district to achieve, to create the student achievement that all of us want, we have to make sure that there is equity across the district," Rivera said. "I appreciate my colleagues' willingness to be able to commit to this."

Board members also approved a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to talk just about the planned budget.

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.
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