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Peek into state budget process shows disagreement on schools

The Times’ City Room blog today gave a peek behind the curtain that has frequently hidden Albany’s budget negotiations from public view — and showed that legislative agreement on major education issues may still be a ways off.

According to an internal memo leaked to the Times that appears to have been prepared by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office after the State Senate and Assembly each passed their own budgets last week, division between the governor and the two houses remains wide on each of the major education policy questions in the budget.

For each policy issue discussed, the 31-page memo lays out the governor’s position, the position of the Senate and the Assembly, and a column for possible compromises. None of the six issues listed related to kindergarten through 12th grade education have a potential compromise given.

And in one prominent case — the question of whether or not to end the state’s current layoff-based seniority system — the memo states that the Assembly’s position is “unknown,” which suggests that there has not yet been much discussion between the three parties on the issue.

With regard to school aid to districts — which the governor has proposed slashing by nearly $1.5 billion statewide — the memo poses a question: “If Legislature stays within overall dollar threshold, will we defer to their 2-way agreement on how to distribute?”

The Assembly has proposed restoring $200 million of the school aid the governor wants to cut. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has asked for $200 million more in education funding to New York City alone and is relying on receiving those funds to balance his proposed city budget. If the city does not receive that money, schools are likely to see further cuts.

According to the document, the Assembly also supports Cuomo’s proposal to develop two new Race to the Top-style incentive programs for New York school districts. But Assembly members would change how the program distributes reward money. Instead of devoting $250 million to a competition to boost student performance and another $250 million to districts that find smart ways of cutting costs, the Assembly would increase the funds going to reward performance and decrease the amount dedicated to the efficiency contest. The Senate, meanwhile, rejects the governor’s plan.

Read the full memo obtained by the Times here.

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