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Cuomo proposes 3 percent more for schools; education groups look for more

Education was one area of positive news in a spending proposal that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called his most challenging budget.

School aid would go up 3 percent under Cuomo's plan, and the poorest districts would see the most operating aid yet, but the governor said he wants to ensure that the poorest schools get the funding.

The governor's budget proposal includes a $50 million increase in funding for "community" schools for the continued transformation of high‐need schools into community hubs, one of the key initiatives in Buffalo the past couple years.  There also is a $10 million expansion of after-school grants to high-need districts.

"We get our share of it and we'll make great use of it," Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash, said of the community school funding.

Cuomo proposed a $338 million increase in foundation aid that funds basic operations, a $15 million expansion of prekindergarten for 3-and 4-year‐old children, an additional $9 million for early college high schools that allow students to work toward their associate's degree while earning their high school diploma, and a $6 million investment in computer science and engineering instruction.  He also wants the largest school districts to submit school‐level funding plans to demonstrate how resources are allocated to individual schools.

While state Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia praised the governor's plan to expand pre-K and after-school programs, they noted the governor's proposal of a $796 million increase in overall funding to schools is less than half of the $1.6 billion the Board of Regents recommended.

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Other groups are also calling for more education aid. Members of High Achievement New York, a coalition of business, urban and community groups, said state leaders should invest more in New York's schools.

"The final negotiated budget needs to include more education funding for all students, as today’s announcement falls far short of what advocates say is needed just to maintain current services," the group said in a statement.

"We do understand the state has got fiscal issues," said Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium.

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But he said as the demands and requirements grow, funding is not following the same pattern. And the state tax cap has made school districts even more dependent on state aid, he said.

"We're hopeful we'll get what we need," Timbs said.

Cash said he is encouraged by the governor's commitment to urban education with the funding for community schools and after-school programs. Funding for lower class sizes is also an area of need for Buffalo.

"Those three priorities would be extremely beneficial," Cash said.

Cash, whose district is facing a $27.2 million budget deficit of its own, is hoping for a 3 to 4.5 percent increase in state funding, which should help the school system close its budget gap.

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