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Senate’s budget favors charter schools, steers less funding to NYC

The state Senate’s spending plan makes clear that its priorities still lie with boosting charter schools.

The Senate’s budget proposal, the highlights of which were released on Wednesday, accepts Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to allow 100 more charter schools to open statewide. It would also increase funding for charter schools by $225 per student next year, even more than Cuomo’s budget would. (Cuomo proposed a $75 per-student increase from the $13,777 per student allotted this year.)

But it doesn’t include any legislative fireworks, either. Last year, the Senate’s budget proposal included a package of new, pro-charter school bills, many of which eventually became law.

The state constitution gives the governor more power over the budgeting process than the Senate or the Assembly, but the two houses’ proposals are meant to be a starting point for negotiations that will take place over the next three weeks. The Assembly released its version earlier this week.

The Senate proposed spending an additional $1.9 billion more in overall school aid, exceeding both Cuomo’s proposal, which tops out at an $1.1 billion addition, and the Assembly’s $1.8 billion addition. But while the Assembly’s money specifically targets school districts with many poor students, such as New York City, more of the Senate’s increase would go toward suburban and upstate school districts, where the Senate’s Republican leaders are based.

The Senate’s budget also includes a bill that would allow corporations and individuals to receive hefty tax credits on specific donations to public and private schools. Qualifying donations up to $1 million would receive a 90 percent tax credit, and total donations up to $300 million would be split between scholarships to cover tuition at private schools — which critics see as a backdoor voucher program — and public school foundations like New York City’s Fund for Public Schools.

A brief outline of the Senate’s proposal does not mention mayoral control for New York City. The Assembly wants to extend it by seven years, while the governor wants only a three-year extension.

State leaders have said this week that they hope to finalize the budget by April 1, when the next fiscal year begins. But Cuomo’s sweeping education policy and ethics reform proposals have also frustrated lawmakers who say the governor is overreaching.

Like the Assembly, the Senate is also expected to scrap several other policy reforms that Cuomo is proposing in his budget, suggesting that weeks of negotiations are ahead.