State Education Commissioner John King said school aid for high-need districts is a priority, and full-day pre-kindergarten cannot be established statewide without adequate funding.
King said half-day pre-K programs currently cost the state nearly $400 million a year, and full-day pre-K is projected to cost as much as $1.6 billion annually. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $1.5 billion over the next five years in his 2014-15 budget plan.
“The challenge over the next few weeks is how to figure out what a reasonable trajectory is to eventually reach universal pre-K statewide,” King said.
Under the current plan, he said, that goal would not be reached by September.
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, said some schools in her district have already cut back on current pre-K programs because of their own budget problems.
“We already have cut programs that prepare our kids for college and careers,” Tkaczyk said. “This budget has to go up.”
King discussed pre-K funding at a joint legislative budget hearing on elementary and secondary education Monday in Albany. During the meeting, King also agreed with legislators that districts need more school aid. He is pushing the state Board of Regents’ call for a $1.3 billion increase in state funding.
King is also looking for high-need school districts to receive $125 million next year and $200 million in following years to support professional development and parental involvement.
“We are very concerned about the risk of educational insolvency across the state,” King said. “We know that they don’t have the aid they need and will be cutting the things students need for long-term success.”
Cuomo’s budget includes an $807 million increase in total education aid, 3.8 percent more than last year.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan, R-Nassau County, questioned how high-need districts would support full-day pre-K when they already don’t receive enough state aid for K-12 programs.
The Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative group, released a report Monday, meanwhile, that points to decreasing enrollment, increasing teacher salaries and high levels of staffing as factors in the continuing rise in school spending. Teachers in the Schenectady City School District earned a median salary of $59,651 in 2012-13, compared to $51,300 five years ago, according to the report.
Schenectady, considered a high-need district, is facing a $10 million budget deficit and has filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging the state inadvertently doles out less money to high-need districts — where the majority of students are often minorities — than to mostly white districts. City school officials say the district only receives about 54 percent of the aid it is entitled to under the state’s formula, while other districts get a significantly higher amount.
Statewide, median teacher salaries increased about 10 percent between 2008-09 and 2012-13. The report says those increases were driven by raises correlated with teacher seniority.
“It’s just a lot of money,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center and co-author of the report. “You’re going to look to reduce or minimize the economic effect of your biggest cost drivers, and that is teachers and salaries.”
This comes as King continues to push forward with Common Core, a set of testing standards for K-12 students. King and the state Education Department have faced widespread criticism on the implementation of the curriculum.
During a Senate Education Committee meeting last week, state senators called for King to delay Common Core’s introduction and provide districts with more time and resources to implement the standards effectively. But King said he would not delay its implementation, though officials would work to smooth the transition.
Following that meeting, the New York State United Teachers’ Board of Directors approved a resolution Saturday declaring “no confidence” in King’s policies. The board is calling for his removal by the Board of Regents.
“Educators understand that introducing new standards, appropriate curriculum and meaningful assessments are ongoing aspects of a robust educational system,” said NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi. “These are complex tasks made even more complex when attempted during a time of devastating budget cuts.”