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STATE COMMISSION RECOMMENDS BILLIONS FOR NEW YORK SCHOOLS: Governor’s Commission Calls for $2.5 Billion to $5.6 Billion Increase in Funding

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"I'm very skeptical," he said. "I don't know if the bottom of the range is enough to make any real difference."

New York schools will need an extra $2.5 billion to $5.6 billion a year to provide a sound basic education to every child in the state, according to Governor George E. Pataki’s (R) Commission on Education Reform. Pataki asked the commission to consider the needs of every child in the state, not just in New York City.

Released last week, the Commission’s report, Ensuring Children an Opportunity for a Sound Basic Education, was required by a New York Court of Appeals ruling that threw out the state’s school-funding formula last year. The court ruled that the state had failed to ensure that students in New York City schools had the chance for a sound, basic education as guaranteed by the state constitution. New York Governor Pataki and the state legislature were ordered to fix the system by July 30, 2004.

In what the New York Times called an “audacious play” for billions of dollars in state money, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that New York City by itself should receive $5.3 billion of the $5.6 billion recommended by the governor’s commission. In the mayor’s plan, released just two days after the commission’s report, Bloomberg said he would spend the money on smaller class sizes for kindergarten through third grade, restructured middle schools, new incentive programs for teachers, and universal pre-kindergarten for the city’s three- and four-year olds. In response, the governor’s office said Governor Pataki would review Bloomberg’s plan but also noted that the state “faces a nearly $5 billion deficit and very real fiscal challenges.”

The state currently provides approximately $14.5 billion a year to its schools. The commission’s recommendations represent a 17- to 39 percent increase to be phased in over five years. The commission did not, however, suggest how much of that increase should come from the state versus local governments. Nor did it specify the source of new funding, leaving that decision up to the state legislature. These two omissions have caused some people to criticize the report: New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) told the New York Times that the commission “appears to have done nothing more than compile and rehash previous and current proposals by the governor;” State Senator Nicholas A. Spano (R) said that the commission left the toughest decisions to legislators.

Michael A. Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), the advocacy group that initially brought the lawsuit on behalf of New York City schoolchildren, was more concerned with whether the additional funding that the commission proposed would suffice. “I’m very skeptical,” he said. “I don’t know if the bottom of the range is enough to make any real difference.”

CFE released a report on March 30, which concluded that for students to be assured of an opportunity to achieve a Regents-level education in New York State will require an increased investment of $6.6 billion to $9.1 billion. Based on the study’s results, CFE projected a statewide education aid increase of $9.5 billion, including building aid, was needed to bring all schools to adequacy level.

Read Governor Pataki’s press release about the commission at: http://www.state.ny.us/governor/press/year04/march29_04.htm.

Read the New York Times article about the commission at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/30/nyregion/30SCHO.html.

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