Silver: New education funding should be targeted to poor school districts

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More than 500 people from all corners of the state traveled to Albany today for a school-funding rally organized by the Alliance for Quality Education. The group and its supporters said they agree with the Board of Regents’ proposal that 73 percent of the increase in education funding in the 2012-13 state budget go to schools with the greatest needs.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said he wants the increase in foundation aid (funding for classrooms) to be targeted to high-needs schools. “We believe in supporting high-needs schools. We’ve always believed in foundation aid and we believe that any extras this year, the increase should go towards foundation aid,” he told reporters.

Asked if the 4 percent increase in foundation aid that lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed upon last year is enough, Silver said, “It’s never enough.

“But in today’s economic circumstances, it’s a positive that I think starts us down the road towards fulfilling some of the commitments we’ve had to fulfill over the years that have been postponed,” he said.

Education aid was decreased for the current fiscal year and the 2010-11 fiscal year, and it was flat in the previous year’s budget.

Brenda Crump, a parent advocate from Mount Vernon, Westchester County, was in Albany to advocate for funding equity with five of her seven children — Vanessa (18), Jasmine (17), Lorraine (15), Timothy (12) and Destiny (12). Each child had made a sign.

Mount Vernon is a high-need academic district with a high poverty level and other challenges. Budget cuts have led to teacher layoffs, and cuts in areas like art, music, sports and academic support services, Crump said.

“Classrooms are overcrowded. There is a shortage of textbooks. Children can’t bring textbooks home because there aren’t enough textbooks to go around,” she said. “So we’re here to ask the governor to do right, to be fair and to be just to children. And just because our children in these high-need areas may not be the children of millionaires or billionaires, they still deserve a quality education.” 

Cuomo has said schools have a lot of money, particularly in the area of administration, and they need to focus on improving results. He has not said whether his 2012-13 budget proposal, which he will release next week, will follow the Board of Regents’ recommendation.

Silver  told people who attended the AQE rally about Assembly Democrats’ interest in raising the minimum wage, passing tax cuts that allow the working poor to keep more of their money they earn, making pre-kindergarten universal across the state, and increasing the state’s investment in community colleges, which are the gateways to advanced degrees and obtaining the high-tech skills needed in the job market.

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