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Four education proposals that could come in Cuomo's State of the State address

In the leak-filled lead up to Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech this afternoon, which will set his legislative agenda for the year, his education policy ambitions have stayed largely under wraps.

But education will still be an important issue this year for Cuomo, according to a report this morning from Capital New York, which was briefed on the speech’s main themes. Education, according to the report, will be featured prominently as a way to project “a socially progressive” agenda that “is not afraid to cut taxes.”

Unlike last year, Cuomo won’t have a menu of proposals that had been vetted by his education reform commission a week before his 2013 address. In that report, the commission recommended a host of ideas, including community schools, longer school days, and expanded pre-kindergarten, that Cuomo turned into policy using small competitive grants.

So what’s in store for this year’s speech, set to take place in just a couple hours? Here are four education initiative we’re hearing Cuomo could feature as he tinkers with his speech this morning:

1. A professional development fund

Support for educators is fast becoming one of the most bipartisan issues headed into the 2014 legislative session. After a bumpy — a friendly word for it, some would say — implementation of Common Core standards, policy makers are universally calling for more funding to support schools during the transition. The State Education Department has proposed $125 million for a “core instructional development fund” and Republican state senator John Flanagan has endorsed similar funding. In New York City, education officials have said more time for professional development is priority when negotiations over a new teacher contract begins.

Cuomo is expected to announce a professional development fund in his speech, according to a person who has been briefed on his remarks this morning. It’s unclear how much he’ll be proposing to put into it — a spokesman did not respond to questions seeking more specific details — but at any price point, the proposal is likely to find supporters on all sides of the education aisle.

2. Education technology funding

Finding money to narrow the education technology gap for poor school districts will be among the priorities in Cuomo’s speech, according to the source who has been briefed. It comes at a time when New York could be just a few years away from adopting online testing that would require schools to bulk up their computing infrastructure. An $89 million windfall of funds is being made available to schools with many low-income students thanks to a lawsuit settlement from last year. But officials say that’s not nearly enough to equalize access to classroom technology.

The State Education Department has made a similar request. Its state aid proposal last month included $50 million for “enhanced technology and textbook aid.”

One way Cuomo could seek to fund his proposal is through social impact bonds, which he has embraced for other government programs recently. Last year, investors in the private sector raised $13.5 million to fund a social impact bond program focused on reducing prison recidivism rates. If the program is successful, the private investors will earn a profit.

3. Pre-kindergarten

Mayor Bill de Blasio will be in the audience in Albany and will be among the people anxiously waiting to hear what Cuomo has to say about pre-kindergarten. Cuomo has downplayed the anticipation, shooting down a news report that he planned to float an alternative funding proposal to expand pre-kindergarten — one that doesn’t rely on new revenue as de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on the city’s highest earners does.

The anticipation is a signal of the showdown that is mounting between Cuomo and de Blasio on the issue. The two leaders agree on the idea of expanding access early education, seen as crucial for preparing high-need children for school, but disagree sharply on the way to fund it. De Blasio has recruited a host of labor leaders and education advocates to back his plan, estimated to cost $340 million annually for 50,000 new full-day seats. So far, Cuomo is said not to be swayed.

What he says on the issue — if he says much at all — could be a preview at how aggressively he plans to negotiate the issue in public.

4. State aid reallocation

Cuomo’s early approach to education funding was that state aid increases should be limited and districts should use their existing resources more efficiently. But last year he broke his self-imposed cap to increase addition state funds to the formula that distributes aid based on districts’ needs, and he has indicated that he’s willing to do the same thing this year.

The big question is just how much more aid districts will get. The State Education Department asked for a total increase of $1.3 billion, with about $1 billion of that going straight to districts and the remaining portion going to professional development fund. And the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group that has long pressed for increased education spending, says nothing short of $1.9 billion in additional school aid will get schools back to their funding level from before the 2008 recession. It’s unclear whether Cuomo will match the education department’s ask, but it’s safe to assume that his funding proposal won’t come close to AQE’s.

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