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In New York State, Lawmakers Enact Near-Record Increase for Education

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The New York State legislature this month passed a $462-million increase in state aid to public schools, bringing to nearly $1 billion the amount of new money it has invested in elementary and secondary education in the past two years.

But representatives of local school districts contend that the $5.8-billion appropriation is not enough to pay for the Board of Regents' "Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education Results in New York State," a comprehensive, five-year reform plan adopted last year. It includes increased requirements in mathematics, science, and foreign languages; instructional requirements for grades 7 and 8; and comprehensive testing of student performance.

School districts are also required under the plan to develop school conduct and discipline policies, to have annual professional-performance evaluations of teachers and administrators, and to prepare a competency-assessment report with trend data on student performance on state-mandated tests. Low performing schools will be required to implement a school-improvement plan.

With the action plan, "we have yet another set of mandates that were not funded," claimed Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. "Had it not been for the Action Plan, we would have said it was a great increase. It's the second-largest increase in history and the largest in a nonelection year. But I'm now afraid the local property tax will have to pay for the rest."

According to Mr. Grumet, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo had asked for $330 million in new funds for general aid to basic education, while the Board of Regents had asked for $634 million.

The Educational Conference Board, which represents school boards, unions, parent-teacher associations, and administrators, had requested $979 million, contending that "the first-year cost of putting the Regents' action plan into place is greater than anticipated."

While acknowledging that districts could use more money, Frank O'Connor, coordinator of educational finance and management with the state education department, said, "I don't think we in the education department at this point feel that there's anything you can't do under the action plan with this appropriation."

"We recognize that all districts will probably face some tax increase," he added. "It's true that the property tax will have to pick up some of the costs in 1985-86 that we hoped would be covered a little more in state aid. It's not as much as the Board of Regents had asked for. But it's a notable, sizable increase. I think there's lots of satisfaction with what's there."

The Cost of Reform

According to Joseph Frey, executive assistant to the deputy commis-sioner for elementary and secondary education, the estimated statewide cost of the Regents' plan for 1985-86, its first year, was $203 million, $76-million of which was to be paid by the state and $127 million by localities. Overall, the state pays for 41 percent of basic education costs, the federal government 6 percent, and local districts 53 percent.

In passing the aid package this month, Mr. Frey said, the legislature reduced to $37 million the state's first-year expenditure for the action plan by eliminating or paring down three sections of the plan that were contingent upon state funds:

A staff-development program that would have required local districts to pick up $58 million of the $93-million total cost to provide three days of staff development for all school personnel.

A $72-million proposal--including $26 million in state funds--to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program. The program would have given the parents of 50 percent of the state's 4-year-olds the option to send their children to pre-kindergarten programs, Mr. Frey said. The $20-million proposal adopted by the legislature, he added, will subsidize pre-kindergarten programs in about 65 school districts.

A $21-million teacher-intern program requiring $16 million in local funds. Under the program, Mr. Frey said, veteran teachers would be assigned to offer guidance and support to first-year teachers.

Mr. Frey said the legislature also denied a request for $50 million in categorical aid to help offset the estimated $70-million cost of hiring teachers to meet new foreign-language requirements that go into effect in 1988-89.

The legislature, Mr. Frey said, was unable to agree on teacher-compensation proposals--including higher pay, career ladders, and merit pay--so it created a $102-million "supplemental-aid" fund, which could be spent by school districts on those plans or other high-priority items identified by the action plan.

The lawmakers also approved:

$11.26 million for a computer-hardware reimbursement program and $9.5 million for software reimbursement.

$5 million in scholarships and fellowships to attract teachers in designated shortage areas.

$1 million to create specialized "high schools of excellence."

$28.6 million for a program to improve attendance and prevent dropouts.

About $13 million to help the five big-city districts--Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers--reduce class sizes in grades 1, 2, and 3.

$60 million for an "excellence in teaching" program to raise salaries, reduce class sizes, create discipline programs, and establish internships for beginning teachers.

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