Alliance for Quality Education wants more aid for needy schools

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The Alliance for Quality Education released a report today that found that 52 percent of the proposed $805 million in new education funding next year would go to high-needs school districts under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget. Thirty-one percent of the money — $250 million — would go toward a competitive-grant program and 14 percent would be directed to average-need school districts. Low-needs districts would get the remaining 2 percent.

Lawmakers and the governor agreed last year to boost education aid 4 percent to $20.3 billion. The governor has recommended expanding a competitive-grant program that was set up in the current budget. The $50 million in initial funding for the two grants — for improved student achievement and management efficiency — is scheduled to be awarded in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The governor wants to greatly expand the program.

AQE is recommending that the $250 million — or at least $225 million of it to allow the existing program to be tested — be redirected. Of the total, $53 million should be spent on expanding pre-kindergarten. The balance of the money should go to school districts as operating aid. And the state should add additional funding to restore some of the $2.7 billion in education funding that has been cut in the past two years, Billy Easton, AQE’s executive director said at a news conference in Albany, one of seven AQE held around the state today.

The governor’s plan would restore $1 in $5 of cuts in the classroom over the past two years, Easton said. Redirecting the competitive grants would restore $1 in $4 of reductions, he said. Data on the impact by school district is available on AQE’s website. “Still not enough, frankly. It’s going to be even at that point hard for districts not to make more cuts because of the double impact of inflation and the (property) tax cap,” Easton said.

The cuts in the past two years have led to layoffs of teachers, librarians and guidance counselors and a reduction in courses in the arts, careers and college prep, as well as fewer offerings in music and sports, Easton said. That includes reducing kindergarten in Poughkeepsie from a full day to a half day and cutting recess time due to layoffs; cutting pre-kindergarten in Yonkers from a full to a half day and reducing career and technical education, arts, music and sports. Meanwhile, wealthy districts like Rye, Westchester County, have a lot more to offer — 22 Advanced Placement courses, 27 sports teams, and a limit of 20 students in a class in elementary school and 23 in middle school.

Mount Vernon, Westchester County, parent Brenda Crump said in a statement that children have lost teachers in English, math, music, art and media/library. There aren’t enough textbooks to go around, and the district have the money to provide adequate Regents/RCT prep classes and academic intervention and support, she said.

“Our children attending the Mount Vernon City School District are not the children of millionaires or billionaires; but they also deserve a quality education,” she said. “There’s no way our children can get a quality education without adding additional funding restorations to our school system.”

Odell Winfield, co-founder of the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library in Poughkeepsie said several districts in the Hudson Valley are facing insolvency. A number of high-needs districts either have closed or are considering shuttering elementary schools, she said in a statement. “State aid needs to be distributed in a way that supports our neediest schools and students rather than increasing their burden,” she said.

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