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In council discretionary spending, evidence of shifting priorities

The City Council increased its discretionary spending on some big-ticket topics this year, funneling more money into senior and health services. But when it came to education initiatives, the total that the council is disbursing actually dropped slightly since last year, from $17.95 million to $17.64 million.

Most of the grantees are the same ones that the council has funded for years, according to details published today in Schedule C, the council’s annual list of discretionary awards. But a few key differences reflect substantial changes in the city’s fiscal picture — and education priorities.

Last year, the council allocated $3 million to avert layoffs of school workers, which Mayor Bloomberg had threatened. This year, with no layoffs on the line, that money could go elsewhere.

The council put $1.55 million into the middle school expanded learning time initiative that the city will operate at 20 struggling middle schools this fall.

It also increased its spending on the Teacher’s Choice program, which gives teachers discretionary funding to spend on classroom supplies.

Last year, the council allocated $3.75 million — or about $40 per teacher — to the program that the UFT launched jointly with the council in the 1980s. That was a major improvement over 2011, when the budget situation forced the council to zero out the program entirely, but it was far less than the $9 million the program had received the year before.

This year, the council is devoting $4.59 million to Teacher’s Choice, meaning that each city teacher is likely to get about $60 to spend on non-essential classroom supplies.

Bill Thompson, the mayoral candidate who has won the UFT’s support, has promised to give every teacher $200 for supplies. “Our teachers give a lot,” he said earlier this month, when he made the pledge. “We need a mayor who understands that commitment and works in kind to give them the little extra support they need.”

The council also funded annual standbys with millions of dollars for custodial services and universal pre-kindergarten programs. But it canceled funding for one program that had long received discretionary aid, Creative Arts Team, which ran drama workshops for “at-risk youth” through the City University of New York.

The full list of the council’s proposed education discretionary funding choices is below.