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What you need to know for 12/16/2017

Education coalition calls for $2 billion in state funds

Education coalition calls for $2 billion in state funds

Comes as state lawmakers face tight budget picture
Education coalition calls for $2 billion in state funds
Photographer: Shutterstock

A coalition of state education groups has called for a $2 billion increase in state education spending, an early step in the annual debate over how much money schools will get.

But state lawmakers will face a tough budget process this winter, as officials are already estimating a deficit of more than $4 billion and expect pressure from new federal tax and health care policies. 

The New York State Educational Conference Board — which represents the state teachers union, superintendents association, school boards association and others — estimated school districts statewide will need to spend $1.9 billion more next year than was spent this school year, just to maintain the same level of services, according to a report the group issued Monday.

While education advocates said they recognize the tough financial picture the state faces, they are still calling for aid increases similar to recent years. The group is also pressing for a three-year commitment to phasing in the state's core education funding formula. Pricetag: $4.2 billion over three years.

"We recognize warnings about the state's fiscal challenges and acknowledge the level of uncertainty going into next year," said John Yagielski, chair of the conference board and a former local school superintendent, in a prepared statement. "However, state policymakers need to know what level of funding is needed to maintain current educational programs and services in our public schools."

The annual cost increases are primarily driven by teacher and staff salaries and rising health insurance expenses. If districts increase local taxes by around 2 percent -- remaining under the state-mandated tax cap -- that would add around $400 million in spending statewide. So, the Legislature would need to increase state funding by another $1.5 billion to maintain services, according to the coalition's report.

The group also called for another $500 million to target teacher training, to address the needs of English Language learners and to establish programs that would help students earn degrees through alternative programs, like those that focus on specific careers.

The Educational Conference Board's annual budget recommendations are usually well above the level of funding state lawmakers approve. Last year, for example, the conference board also recommended lawmakers boost state aid for schools by $2 billion. The Legislature ultimately approved a state aid increase of $1.1 billion, bringing the state's overall spending on public schools to $25.8 billion.  

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