Spitzer’s proposed increase in education aid may not be enough

Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposes spending $21 billion for kindergarten through 12th grade education in th
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer presents his 2008-09 state budget in Albany on Tuesday.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer presents his 2008-09 state budget in Albany on Tuesday.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposes spending $21 billion for kindergarten through 12th grade education in the 2008-09 budget — an increase of nearly $1.46 billion from the current year.

However, some school officials are worried that the proposed aid is $350 million less than they anticipated.

State budget

For answers to frequently asked questions about Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s state budget proposal, click here. To view a detailed briefing book on the plan, click here (Adobe Reader required to view file). To view other budget documents, click here.

In his budget proposal made Tuesday, Spitzer, a Democrat, said his budget would continue the current level of K-12 education spending — $19.5 billion. He also proposes $584 million for continued expansion of universal pre-kindergarten, building and transportation aid increases, special education and special services aid increases, and bilingual education grants.

There would also be $900 million in foundation aid to schools, which is a decrease from the nearly $1.25 billion proposed in Spitzer’s four-year school aid plan released last year. To offset that drop, Spitzer is offering a package of about $279 million in grants to school districts with high property tax burdens, and New York City schools.

“Even at a moment of economic difficulty, we are maintaining that priority of K-12 spending because it is essential to our economic future,” he said.

Spitzer said his goal is to have all the state’s 180,000 children enrolled in pre-kindergarten by the 2010-11 school year. He said the investment in children’s early education is critical. “If we lose them early, we never regain them,” he said.

Spitzer also proposes reducing BOCES aid by $31 million, to $594 million.

For higher education, Spitzer proposes creating a $4 billion endowment fund by privatizing the state Lottery and using the money from the franchise fee as seed money. He estimates this could generate about $200 million a year.

Besides the $21 billion, Spitzer proposes to increase the State University of New York’s operating budget by 1.2 percent to $3.41 billion and to increase the City University of New York’s budget by 3.2 percent to $52.6 million. He also seeks $9.3 billion for a five-year capital improvement program at SUNY and CUNY.

He is seeking $2 million to provide combat veterans with the cost of SUNY tuition.

Tuition would increase by an estimated $50 per student for community colleges as the result of a drop in state aid per student.

In his State of the State address last week, Spitzer called on hiring 2,000 new faculty members for SUNY and CUNY. However, Spitzer has not allocated any specific money to hire these faculty members for one year and said the hiring would depend on how rapidly the state can build up its education endowment. “We’re obviously not going to go out and hire these 2,000 faculty members in one year,” he said.

Spitzer proposes to delay for one year the planned increase in the Basic Middle Class STAR rebate, which would have provided the average homeowner with a savings of $65 or more. He reiterated his support for a property tax cap, which a commission is exploring.

New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi raised concerns about the cuts in foundation aid to school, preschool, special education, BOCES aid and higher education. He said the union plans to work with the Legislature to restore these funds to the levels promised in the governor’s four-year plan released last year.

“If we waver even ever so slightly, then our ability to close the achievement gap will be dealt a serious blow,” he said.

Iannuzzi also expressed concern that there is no dedicated funding to hire the 2,000 additional faculty at SUNY and CUNY, which could delay that process by 18 months. He continued to express concerns about what impact a property tax cap would have on education.

Schenectady School Superintendent Eric Ely said he has only had a cursory review of the school aid amounts, but the estimated $12.2 million in aid in the governor’s proposal is a couple million dollars less than the increase he expected for 2008-09. However, it is still a substantial increase in aid.

He said it seemed like the governor was shifting his education focus to post-secondary schools, community colleges and universities.

“I think that’s important, but not at the expense of local districts. We’re dealing with a very challenging urban population,” he said.

Ely said the city needs more money for pre-kindergarten programs. It spent a little under $2 million and is not expected to go up much in the governor’s proposed budget. He worried about increases in health insurance and fuel.

SUNY Interim Chancellor John Clark praised Spitzer’s goal to create an endowment for the university system and to change regulations to allow the university to operate in a more efficient manner.

Categories: Schenectady County

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