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Budget deal "moving" but no details on main education issues

Legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein.
Legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein.

State lawmakers emerged from their latest budget talks on Thursday morning closer to a deal but with few details on the big topics being discussed in negotiations.

“Nothing’s closed down,” Speaker Sheldon Silver said when asked if any of issues had been settled.

A number of education issues in particular are still being discussed, including a package of State Senate bills proposed to increase funding to charter schools. Others up in the air are funding for statewide pre-kindergarten, changes to student testing policies tied to new teacher evaluations and Common Core-aligned exams, and a tax credit for donations to private school scholarship funds and some public school programs.

“Everybody understands that nothing happens until everything happens,” Silver added, though he said that he expected to “have a deal today.”

Lawmakers are hoping to submit a budget bill for the 2014-2015 fiscal year by Friday night before midnight at the very latest. By law, the state is required to allow three calendar days to pass between the time the budget bills are printed and when it gets voted on by the legislature.

Outside of the negotiating room, however, anxiety has been high as the final talks are underway. Alliance for Quality Education, which opposes new funding for charter schools, circulated a statement saying that it believed charter schools were due to receive a significant boost in per-pupil funding. Executive Director Billy Easton said that one estimate from lawmakers was between $50 and $100 million, but he later said that it was still a moving a target.

Though the figures haven’t been confirmed, the AQE estimate stirred reactions from New York City elected officials. A statement released by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office alluded to “news of an Albany plan to require the City Department of Education to co-locate charter schools in public school buildings or pay charter schools’ private-location rent.”

“Last I checked, the Mayor was still in charge of New York City Public Schools,” Brewer said in a statement. A spokesman later said that Brewer had received that information from AQE.

Outside City Hall this afternoon, parents and local elected officials criticized the charter school movement’s well-heeled lobbying effort that included campaign contributions, large rallies and an all-encompassing advertising campaign.

“This is a rally to express our outrage over any deal made to put charter schools above public schools,” said City Council Education Chair Danny Dromm.

Dromm said that New York City is still owed about money from the state’s 2007 lawsuit settlement with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which agreed to increase aid through a more equitable funding formula. The city is projecting it will receive $5.9 billion in 2014 through the formula, which is more than $2 billion less than what it is supposed to receive through CFE, according city budget documents.

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