Facebook Twitter
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

Launching 2017 legislative session, Heastie signals support for major increase in school funding

In his opening speech to the New York State Assembly on Wednesday, Speaker Carl Heastie threw his support behind the release of long-sought funding designed to help the state’s neediest schools.

The Speaker said he wants to create a timetable to “fully” phase in what’s known as “foundation aid” — a funding stream created in large part to help high-needs schools. The funding, which was derailed by budget cuts during the recession, is a major source of school aid in New York City. It provides about 30 percent of state’s allocation to the city, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

“The Assembly Majority believes that there is no investment worth more than education,” Heastie said in one of his first remarks to the Assembly.

Heastie’s strong support for school funding might help alleviate concerns that K-12 education could take a backseat to higher education in this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that one of his major 2017 initiatives will be providing free tuition at state colleges to families making less than $125,000 per year.

Right after Cuomo’s announcement, the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that pushes for school funding, released a statement pressing the governor to consider “all public education funding” in this year’s budget

“Without a commitment to first better prepare students for college through adequate K-12 funding from the state, the governor’s plan will not make the impact intended,” it stated.

Though Heastie’s support is good news for advocates, his wishes are not always fully reflected in the final budget. In his opening speech last year, the speaker called for the “highest funding level possible” for New York state education and the Assembly’s budget included a $2.1 billion increase in education spending. When the dust settled, however, the legislature increased education spending by about $1.3 billion.

Still, Heastie’s comment puts him in line with the state’s policymaking body, which called for a three-year phase-in of the foundation aid in December. At the time Regent James Tallon, who chairs the Regents state aid subcommittee, called the proposal “aggressive,” but also argued it was the right time to honor the state’s pledge to boost student funding.

In his speech, Heastie also praised the state’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which aims to help boys and young men of color achieve their educational potential; said he wants to build on last year’s investment in community schools; and expressed support for Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan.

“I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority,” Heastie said about the proposal. “We look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”