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Albany budget battles to focus on education issues

File Photo / WBFO News

The Senate and Assembly are set to begin conference committee meetings today, now that both houses have finished with their resolutions laying out their positions.

Sticking points include funding for Charter schools.

Governor Cuomo and Senate Republicans want to restore changes made by  New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio to three charter schools. The mayor says the schools can no longer have rent-free space in existing public school buildings.

Cuomo, speaking at a business lunch, says protecting charter schools will be one of his top priorities in the budget.

“It’s essential that the Charter movement be protected, and that the Charter movement be supported,” Cuomo said, to applause.

Afterward the governor said no mayor should be allowed the power to both deny the schools  free rent and block additional funding if they were forced to move. He says that would amount to a “de facto stop” of the charter movement.

The Assembly is not on board, however, with the charter proposal. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the money in the Senate plan could be better spent to help children at struggling public schools, where there’s already a classroom shortage.

“They don’t have Wall Street millionaires who can put ads on or contribute to campaigns, and therefore nobody represents them,” Silver said. “They’re doomed to sitting in trailers for the rest of their school career.”

Silver does back the Senate proposal to use over half a billion dollars in state funds to fully fund universal pre kindergarten, as long as there are no pre conditions or strings attached. But Governor Cuomo says there will not be a “predetermined” amount of money allocated for each city, and he wants proof that a school district is ready to begin a pre-K program in the fall, before he commits any new funding.

The three sides have until the end of the month to settle their differences and come up with a final spending plan.

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.