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New York City a straggler in getting state’s spending approval

New York City is one of just three cities that has not yet gotten approval for its plan for how to spend a special set of state funds, known as the Contracts for Excellence dollars.

The funds work like a contract: Districts with needy students and schools get extra money — but on the condition that they spend it only on the neediest schools and only through certain programs. Districts do not get their state allocation until the State Education Department approves the district’s proposal for how to spend the funds.

Last week, SED approved 10 more districts’ spending plans, bringing the total approved this year to 36. Only 39 districts are eligible to receive the special funds this year. (The other two districts still waiting for approval are Rochester and Amsterdam.)

A request from state officials to the city Department of Education could be what’s holding up New York City’s proposal: I reported early last month that SED asked the New York City alone to provide more detailed information about how it plans to use state funds to reduce class size.

“We are working with the remaining districts to finalize their contracts,” SED spokesman Jonathan Burman told me last month by e-mail. “There is no deadline” by which districts must have their contracts approved.

A similar standoff happened last year, in the first round of Contracts for Excellence money ever doled out. Insiders reported that bitter negotiations between the state and the city were behind a months-long delay in approving the city’s plan, but officials said the conversations were “cooperative.” Because of the delay, the state did not approve any district’s spending plan until the end of November.