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State budget adds $400M to city schools

New York Teacher

Legislators passed a new state budget on April 1 that will add more than $400 million in school aid for New York City and provide another $300 million to fund Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promised expansion of full-day prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the city.

The budget agreement did not come without compromises and setbacks, but the increase for schools that legislators agreed on was far larger than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed. If passed, a bond issue in the budget will also fund the elimination of classroom trailers and pay for technology upgrades.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the overall school aid increase, which will bring state spending on city schools to $7.65 billion.

“We had two major goals this year in Albany — to get state aid distributed based on need rather than political prowess, and getting money for universal pre-K. We were successful in both,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “New York City is getting a larger proportion of state aid this year than any time since I have been president.”

Among the setbacks in the budget was the state’s refusal to allow the city to tax its high-income residents to pay for pre-K and new prerogatives for charter schools just as the mayor was seeking to curtail their power.

Despite those disappointments, de Blasio claimed victory. “What we’re seeing so far constitutes an extraordinary and historic step forward — clearly the resources we need to create full-day pre-K for every child in the city. That’s what we set out to do,” the mayor said.


Charter lobby wins new privileges

The agreement bans New York City from charging rent to charters — an idea that de Blasio championed in his campaign for mayor — and further requires the city to find room for all new and expanding charters in public school buildings or pay for private facilities.

It orders the city to co-locate three new Success Academy charter schools next fall, despite Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s determination that the three co-locations were ill-advised and would harm special-needs students already in those buildings.

The new privileges followed a $5 million lobbying campaign by charter school advocates, spearheaded by Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz.

Speaking to reporters on April 2, de Blasio acknowledged that he had been “surprised” by the response to his co-location reversals but vowed that he would continue to reform the co-location process and said the city still governs what happens inside DOE buildings.

Expressing his concern, Mulgrew said, “Our students can’t be second-class citizens in their own school system.”

Charter school per-pupil funding is set to go up by $500 over three years. The additional funding for charter schools will be paid by the state and will not come out of city school aid.

The law enshrines the right of the city comptroller to audit charter schools in New York City, a right that Comptroller Scott Stringer has said he intends to exercise.


50,000 pre-K seats

The pre-K funding will be enough to provide full-day classes to more than 50,000 4-year-olds in the coming school year. Under the agreement, the state will provide $10,000 per-pupil reimbursement for programs that hire certified teachers and $7,000 per pupil for those programs run by community-based organizations and parochial schools with uncertified teachers. Also, uncertified teachers will be mandated to work toward becoming certified in three years.

The budget did not earmark funds for middle school after-school programs, but legislators said the city could spend part of its overall increase on that initiative, the second piece of de Blasio’s signature education proposal.

Teacher Centers will receive $14 million statewide, the same as the previous year.

Gov. Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion “Smart Schools” bond issue is included in the budget and will appear on the November ballot. The money can be used to upgrade classroom technology, strengthen the Internet in schools, build pre-K classrooms and replace classroom trailers.