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New York Lawmakers Pass Large School-Aid Increase

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For the fifth straight year, the New York state legislature has included a sizable increase for public education in its annual budget, bringing the total increase over the past five years to more than 50 percent.

However, because passage of the budget was delayed for 11 days after the start of the new fiscal year on April 1, the state will be almost two weeks late in making its first payment of $1.3 billion to school districts. The delay will mean that districts that do not have a surplus may have to borrow money to make payments in the interim, a spokesman for the state comptroller's office said.

Elementary and secondary education received $7.2 billion in the 1987-88 budget passed by the legislature, an increase of $653 million over the current year. The increase is $230 million higher than Gov. Mario M. Cuomo had requested, and $40 million lower than the state board of regents had advocated.

Although the budget allots more to education and includes more tax cuts than the Governor recommended, Mr. Cuomo announced after the bill's passage this month that he would sign it before the April 23 deadline.

The state's general-fund budget will rise to $26.4 billion under the new bill, an increase of 7 percent over the current year.

The legislature rejected a proposal advanced by the Governor and the board of regents that would have consolidated some of the programs that provide aid to disadvantaged youths into one program called Performance Aid for Student Success.

They did, however, accept the Governor's and regents' budget priorities for education programs that serve "at risk'' youths, and targeted much of the spending increase to new and existing programs in that area.

The new budget will have the effect of "driving money to the districts most in need,'' said J. Robert Daggett, executive assistant to the state commissioner of education.

Budget Priorities

In its budget, the legislature distributed the increased funding for education by allocating:

  • $275 million in new operating aid that is distributed to school districts through the equalized funding formula.
  • $115 million in increased supplemental-support aid, which is distributed to school districts in low-wealth, high-tax areas.
  • $35.5 million to a new program to diagnose and assist students with compensatory educational needs in the state's five largest urban areas.
  • $7 million to a new program, dubbed the "youth at-risk and community partnership program,'' that will allow school districts to apply for competitive grants of up to $200,000 for programs addressing such problems as drug and alcohol abuse, adolescent pregnancy, nutrition, and suicide prevention.
  • $38 million in new money for the one-year-old "excellence in teaching'' program, bringing to $133 million the total that will be available to school districts to raise teachers' salaries next year.
  • $5.5 million to develop and implement a statewide, computerized student-information system to track student progress.
  • $5 million in new money to a 19-year-old "experimental'' program for 4-year-olds, increasing to $27- million the total that will be available for school districts that have large populations of disadvantaged preschoolers.
  • $4 million in new money to the state's pilot mentor-teacher program, which doubles the total available next year to $8 million.
  • $1 million for a new program that will distribute funds to higher-education institutions for initiatives to draw members of minorities into teaching.
  • $1 million to a new grant program designed to address the student-dropout problem in rural areas.
  • $2 million to a new program designed to address the problem of illiteracy in the workplace, which will be distributed by the department of education to labor unions on a competitive-grant basis.

Income-Tax Cut

The legislature rejected Governor Cuomo's proposal to eliminate the state's "save harmless'' provision, which insulates districts from decreases in state aid when they experience enrollment declines.

While allocating $1 million for the creation of a statewide residential "high school of excellence,'' the legislature has not yet passed a bill that will enable work on the school to begin.

The new budget includes the largest personal-income-tax cut in the state's history, which will return an estimated $2.2 billion a year to taxpayers over the next four years.

Regents Consider Standards

Meanwhile, the state board of regents, at its monthly meeting this week, is scheduled to consider a set of proposals to raise standards for teacher certification.

The package includes requirements that potential elementary-school teachers obtain an academic degree in a field other than education; that all potential teachers complete a greater number of liberal-arts and science courses; and that teachers complete a one-year internship as a prerequisite to full-time certification.

At their regular meeting last month, the regents adopted new regulations that will require school districts to provide staff development to all uncertified teachers hired on an emergency basis and help them gain certification within three years.

Beginning next year, the new rules require that all first-year uncertified teachers spend 20 percent of their time working with certified teachers who will serve as mentors.

School districts will be required to reduce the teaching load of each teacher-mentor by 20 percent for each uncertified teacher supervised, or hire additional certified personnel, including retirees or administrators, to serve as mentors.

In addition, the districts will be required to submit formal plans to the state describing how they will provide the required staff development and professional support.

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