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The $200 million scuffle over school funding

The District Parent Coordinating Council and Buffalo ReformED joined a few education reform groups across the state today to issue a joint statement supporting the governor's plan to allocate $250 million in the 2012-13 budget for school performance grants.

School leaders across the state have called on the governor to instead allocate $50 million for the competitive grants, and allocate the other $200 million to school districts through standard aid formulas.

The statement from the reform groups and parent groups today echoed Cuomo's often-used line that New York spends the most on education than any state, but is 38th in graduation rate, and takes to task "the special interests in New York State (who) have fought successfully to protect the education bureaucracy at the expense of our students."

“Throwing money at the bureaucracy and watching students fail simply doesn’t work," the statement said. "Governor Cuomo’s bold proposal to reward districts that show higher student performance truly puts students first.”

The competitive grants will be awarded to districts for improving student outcomes and management. They represent about one-third of the statewide $805 million (4 percent) increase in school aid included in the governor's budget proposal.

The state education commissioner and superintendents from the biggest districts across the state appealed to lawmakers during committee hearings this week to take $200 million out of the $250 for the competitive grants and allocate that money for operating aid distributed among districts.

“In the past, the Big Five districts were often the ones that did not qualify for those performance grants, so right off the bat it’s money that won’t come our way,” Buffalo interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said.

Commissioner John B. King Jr. called for state lawmakers to adopt the approach backed by the Board of Regents, which allocates $50 million for the competitive grants, rather than $250 million.

Various groups representing school districts and unions have also called for the allocation to be trimmed to $50 million.

“Competition might be healthy if you're training for a race or on a team but it's not healthy or okay when you have rural parts of the state like Jordan-Elbridge competing with Scarsdale or New York City competing with Syosset or needy districts like Binghamton and Buffalo competing with each other for money desperately needed to ensure that all our children have an opportunity to learn," Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of Allicance for Quality Education, said in a statement. "Test scores should not be used to determine whether or not students will receive the classroom resources they need to succeed.”

“We began last week by honoring the memory of Dr. King I wonder what he would say if he knew we were considering making our children compete to get to the mountain top,” said Ansari, whose group is supported by teachers unions.

The statement issued today by the DPCC, Buffalo ReformED, Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform, NYCan (New York Campaign For Achievement Now) and others, said the grants would reward districts that implement successful strategies and establish a set of best practices that could be replicated by other districts.

“As they have in years past, the special interests are fighting hard against rewarding performance, but there is little outrage over our growing number of failing schools," the joint statement said. "Instead, these special interests advocate for a blank check to protect the adults at the expense of the students and grow the bureaucracy."

- Mary Pasciak

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