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Governor proposes nearly $1 billion more for schools

Funding to the state's public schools would go up nearly $1 billion under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget, but education advocates were hoping for about twice as much.

Cuomo is proposing a 3.6 percent increase, which would bring overall aid to $27.7 billion. During his state of the state address Tuesday, the governor also said he plans to introduce an education equity formula to provide funding to poorer schools, but he did not provide specifics.

The New York State Educational Conference Board, a coalition of six major education stakeholder groups, has called for an increase of $2.2 billion in aid. The state Board of Regents said $2.1 billion is necessary to meet the needs of students.

But this is just the first budget proposal. Many expect the State Legislature to increase funding.

"The legislators have, year in and year out, fought to increase funding for individual districts," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "We would expect that to continue."

Superintendents, school business officials and school board members have long called for the foundation aid formula, which funds much of the educational program, to be updated.

Cuomo, specifically, spoke about correcting the inequity in funding between rich and poor schools, and called for a new law to codify the change. The state, the governor said, sends 70 percent of the education funding to poor districts believing that money would trickle down to the poorer schools – but it hasn’t.

“We were funding the poorer districts and then the districts turned around and decided how to distribute the funds and they did not distribute the funds to the poorer schools,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, in fact, spearheaded a new mandate this school year that for the first time requires districts to report school-by-school budgets to give a clearer picture of whether funds are being distributed equitably to support the students who need the most help.

Cuomo took that one step further Tuesday by proposing a law that distributes funding based on an education equity formula. He did not provide details.

“Let’s have a law that accomplishes what we want to accomplish,” Cuomo said. “Let’s end those funding disparities once and for all.”

Educators are waiting for the details, but one, Frontier Superintendent Richard Hughes, called the proposal a "redirect," and an attempt to make districts "jump through hoops" to codify what they do. Equity across schools pertains to the largest districts with multiple schools, he said.

"He's trying to paint everybody with the same brush," Hughes said. "If a school district is not putting funds where they are most needed, shame on them."

And on Twitter, Hughes asked about districts that have low spending per student, like Frontier, "and are well underfunded as per Foundation Aid Formula?"

The governor also called for the state tax cap to be made permanent.

The tax cap, approved in 2011, limits the increase in tax levies for local municipalities, including school districts, to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is less. There are exclusions that can be applied which could allow individual tax levies to exceed the cap. But to go over the cap, school district budgets must be approved by 60 percent of voters.

The governor talked about a tier system in the tax cap, but he did not explain what that might mean.

"It should not be made permanent without making some adjustments," Lowry said. "It's commonly interpreted to be a 2 percent tax cap. Make it 2 percent, plus or minus exclusions."

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