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Regents want state to add $2 billion in education spending

The Board of Regents want the state to increase education spending by $2 billion next year, a spike that would include an extra $70 million for the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion.

The proposal, voted on this morning at the Board of Regents’ monthly meeting in Albany, asked lawmakers to set aside an extra $2 billion to support pre-K expansion, English language learners, professional development, and career and technical education programs. James Tallon, who chairs the Regents’ subcommittee on state aid, said that the increases are necessary to ensure that a slew of new initiatives have the chance to be implemented successfully.

The proposal includes requests to fund several initiatives that could affect city schools:

  • $251 million more for the state’s universal pre-K program, $70 million of which would go to New York City. Last year, the city received $300 million for each of the next five years to expand pre-K access, and the rest of the state received just $40 million.
  • $86 million to support English language learners. That would more than double the amount currently allotted to their support, a change officials said was needed in order to hire more certified teachers to work in tandem with teachers who are not licensed to work with students who are still learning English.
  • $80 million for grants to continue the state’s Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness program, taking over the costs previously covered by federal Race to the Top grants. Last year, the city won $12 million through the program, some of which is being used for a teacher career-ladder program for a group of Bronx high schools.
  • $260 million to pay back school districts that are owed money. The state has fallen behind in repaying districts that end up with higher-than-expected costs for things like special education and transportation services. It’s unclear whether New York City is owed any of that funding, but that money “could smooth the transition for some districts to the post-Race to the Top era,” the proposal notes.
  • A total of $1.1 billion in additional general education funding to be passed to districts. About half of that, or $526 million, would be filtered through a formula that gives more funding to districts with a higher proportion of poor students, like New York City. The rest will go toward reducing the state’s “gap elimination adjustment,” which would largely boost budgets of suburban school districts that were hit hardest by that cost-cutting program established five years ago during the recession.

The proposal, which serves mostly as an advisory document, comes less than a month before Gov. Andrew Cuomo releases a budget proposal that will formally kick off negotiations with state lawmakers. The state’s final spending plan often leaves out funding for many programs favored by the State Education Department.

The Regents’ request is 53 percent higher than the $1.3 billion increase the Regents requested last year — a jump likely to raise eyebrows amid ongoing debates over how to most effectively disburse taxpayer dollars for public schools. New York, which spends more per student than any other state on education, will spend $22.3 billion on schools this year.

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