March 2012
February 23, 2012

Regents join call for more aid to high-needs schools

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, along with grassroots organizations and the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus held a joint press event to oppose Governor Cuomo's plan to fund public schools using competitive grants. The Board of Regents also opposes the idea. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

The Board of Regents agree with NYSUT's call to shift millions of dollars in competitive grants to the general school aid formula.

Regent James Tallon, who chairs the Regents State Aid Subcommittee, said the state education policymaking board is urging lawmakers to reject the governor's plan to expand the competitive grants from $50 million to $250 million and instead shift $200 million of that funding to a more progressive school aid formula that will help more districts.

"The needy districts have taken a bigger hit per pupil," said Tallon, who represents the Binghamton area and is a former Assembly leader. "We need to go back to the basic formula that directly channels more aid to the districts that really need it."

NYSUT is calling for the entire $250 million in competitive grants to be redirected to support core educational programs. Many school districts are still reeling from the $1.3 billion cut in school aid imposed last year and finding it difficult to craft budget plans under a new cap approved last year.

At a news conference last month, parents and 33 lawmakers joined with NYSUT and citizen groups to voice their opposition to the executive budget's competitive grant proposal. Tens of thousands have signed an online petition posted at www.nysut.org/supportourschools.

"In this environment, it is simply unfair to award scarce resources to a handful of school districts when an overwhelming number of school districts have significant resource needs," the petition states.

Tallon highlighted another key difference between the governor's proposed budget and the Regents recommendation. While the governor is proposing a continued freeze on Universal pre-K funding, the Regents are urging state lawmakers to start rebuilding the program that was supposed to be accessible to all 4-year-olds in New York nearly a decade ago.

"Since its inception in 1998, Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) has had many starts, stops and slowdowns on the way to becoming fully implemented," state Education Department staff wrote in a memo to the Board of Regents. "It is currently far from being ‘universal.'"

The Regents are recommending at least $53 million be added. The board also stressed the need to provide transportation for UPK students and expand inclusion of children with disabilities in pre-K programs.