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Cuomo renews call for districts to better fund neediest schools

Cuomo renews call for districts to better fund neediest schools

Education advocates say real issue is funding neediest districts
Cuomo renews call for districts to better fund neediest schools
Andrew M. Cuomo gives the State of the State in Albany on Wednesday
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

CAPITAL -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday renewed his call to require school districts to allocate more funds to their neediest schools, a proposal many panned last year as a distraction from broader funding disparities across the state.

During his state of the state address, the governor devoted a short section to education, issuing a call to “use state funds to raise those [schools] at the bottom” after highlighting the per-pupil funding differences between the state’s wealthiest and poorest schools. He repeated the mantra three times to underline his point.

“Fund the poorer schools and close the education gap,” Cuomo said during the speech. “And let’s do it this year.”

In a state of the state policy document, Cuomo reiterated his support of a new requirement that districts report budget allocations at the school level – an effort to bring to light potential discrepancies between schools within the same district. An earlier proposal from the governor last year went even further and actually required districts to reshuffle actual spending, not just report budget allocations.

“Governor Cuomo will continue to close the funding gap between poor and rich schools by requiring that state education funds go to the neediest schools,” according to the policy document. “These requirements will ensure that districts are funding the neediest schools within districts.”

But many education advocates have argued the governor’s focus on funding disparities within districts, as opposed to those disparities that exist from one district to another, is misplaced and doesn’t account for the greatest drivers of funding inequities in New York’s education system.

Advocates and educators, along with the Board of Regents and many state lawmakers, have called for boosting funding under the state’s foundation aid formula, a state formula used to identify the funding needs of different districts.

“We need resources to match Governor Cuomo’s rhetoric,” Jasmine Gripper, executive director of education advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, said in a statement released following the speech. “We need the governor to champion foundation, not just chant, ‘raise those at the bottom.’ Achieving this is impossible if Governor Cuomo continues to deny the funding owed to our public schools.”

Districts that receive at least half of their overall funding from the state have already had to report how they budgeted their dollars at the school level, and this year hundreds more districts will have to do the same.

But it’s not clear from the proposal outlined in the state of the state policy document what the governor aims to do to continue his calls to promote more equitable intra-district funding. Bob Lowry, of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said he's awaiting more details in the governor’s budget proposal due later this month.

Lowry said it may be the case that in some districts funding could be better allocated, but he also pointed out that differences in funding between a district’s schools might be explained by special programs, more experienced teachers, different grade levels or other factors.

“The bottom line is, yes, perhaps there are instances where funds within a district should be better allocated or differently allocated, but I think the greater problem is the disparities in resources across districts.”

More bilingual teachers, pre-k seats and mental health supports

Despite the governor’s short section on education in his speech, the policy document included a litany of other education priorities and investments.

Cuomo called for boosting the number pre-kindergarten spots in the state as well as expanding grant funding for before- and after-school programming, particularly in high-need communities.

He also called for new funding to increase the number of bilingual teachers graduating with education degrees and trained to enter the state’s schools, where far too few teachers have the language skills needed to work with students who speak other languages.

The proposals also include funding to pay for low-income students to take AP and IB tests so those students can earn college credits while in high school. The governor called for a new competitive grant program to support districts pursuing efforts to address serious mental health challenges of students.

Education groups, like the superintendents council and New York State School Boards Association and others, lauded these proposals, while adopting a “wait and see” approach on overall education funding levels, which the governor will include in his full budget proposal expected later this month.

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