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Albany statehouse.

Albany statehouse.

Governor Cuomo proposes $1 billion increase in state aid, kicking off school funding negotiations

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed increasing state aid to schools by roughly $1 billion on Tuesday, a number shy of what many advocates had hoped for, but one some say is a good starting point.

Cuomo, who unveiled the figure along with his overall state budget, said his education proposals were always “exceedingly generous” and would total $25.6 billion this year. But his $1 billion increase is far less than the $2.1 billion suggested by the state’s Board of Regents, and also falls short of what advocates say is owed to schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit.

Still, Cuomo’s proposal is not final. The eventual sum will be determined in conjunction with the legislature and has increased in the past from the governor’s initial bid. Last year, the governor proposed a roughly $1 billion increase in state aid, but the final education spending tally increased by approximately $1.5 billion, including a $1.3 billion increase in state aid.

“We are encouraged by the governor’s focus on resources for public education,” wrote New York State United Teachers union in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “As always, details matter, and we look forward to working with the governor and legislature on a final state budget that invests more strongly in our public schools, colleges and health care institutions.”

Others were more critical of the governor’s proposal. Cuomo has “talked about the fact that there are two public school systems, one for the rich and one for the poor,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, which has long pushed for more state funding. “This just keeps that rolling right along.”

Cuomo’s billion-dollar proposed increase in school aid includes roughly $428 million in “foundation aid,” which is allocated to schools based on need.

The Board of Regents, the state’s policymaking body, proposed a $1.47 billion increase in foundation aid this year, part of a total $4.3 billion they suggest the state provide schools over the next three years.

Advocates like Easton want the same amount, spread over two years. This is not the first year they have pushed for additional school funding, but they hope this year the timing is right. A large set of education cuts — called the Gap Elimination Adjustment — were restored last year, which some thought could pave the way for more of the CFE funding. This fall, supporters walked 150 miles from New York City to Albany to demand the funds.

Other lawmakers and policymakers have also expressed their support for phasing in the remaining foundation aid. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he supports fully phasing in the funding stream.

Yet, the state is experiencing a $3.5 billion deficit this year. And Flanagan, who presides over the Republican-controlled chamber, seemed supportive of the governor’s proposal while speaking with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

“The governor deserves credit for putting a billion dollars on the table,” Flanagan said.