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Battle over education funding continues in Albany

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 2/15/2012, 7:20 p.m.

Education advocates, groups and politicians were in Albany on Wednesday to voice their displeasure with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget's competitive grants proposal.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), along with members of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, held a press conference in the New York State Legislative Office Building in Albany.

The CFE publicly released a letter to the governor and the Legislature asserting that the executive budget's proposal conflicts with the New York Court of Appeals in its landmark CFE rulings.

Last week, the Amsterdam News reported on this issue in a front-page story (see page 13 for a letter from the governor's office attempting to raise questions about the coverage in this story).

The press conference highlighted the fact that the $2.7 billion in state school aid cuts will have damaging effects, particularly for high-need schools and schools serving large numbers of students of color.

In 2007, the governor and Legislature enacted school funding reforms as a statewide settlement with CFE, which committed to increasing classroom aid, also known as foundation aid, by $5.5 billion over four years and to prioritizing high-needs schools and districts. The groups also emphasized the need for additional school aid restoration above the $805 million.

"The 2007 foundation aid program was enacted to provide all New York students with the funds necessary for a sound, basic education as defined by the landmark CFE rulings," said David Sciarra of the Education Law Center.

"We're asking the Legislature to revise the executive budget by allocating increased funds to the foundation program to put the state back on track towards constitutional compliance," he said in a statement released at the press conference.

Representatives from around the state are speaking out on the issue. Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes said that the $38 million in cuts to the Buffalo School District over the past two years have been dramatic.

"It is critical that we stop the bleeding now. $14 million in restorations is not enough-the redirection of competitive grants toward classroom aid is what is needed at a minimum to help mitigate the damage that will continue if these funds are not received," she said.

Likewise, Assemblyman Sam Roberts of Syracuse said, "Given the tough fiscal times we are in, I feel it's imperative that we target as much school aid as possible to high-needs schools, where it can make the most difference. We cannot allow the students in these districts to fall through the cracks."

In Westchester, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said that the proposed budget will cause damage to students he feels could be leaders in the state's future. He has also pledged to work to restore funds back to the schools.

"We are all aware that our state is facing economic hardship, but the quality of our children's education should be one of our top priorities," he said. "Cutting cost at the expense of our school system can be detrimental to our educational programs."

Black politicians across the city are weighing in on the issue as well. City Councilman and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson said that the proposal will have a severe effect on New York City schools, many of which are already suffering.