Senator Parker Announces Passage Of ‘historic’ State Education Budget

 

New York State's school aid increases by $1.7 billion over last year’s mark, raising the total to $19.2 billion for 2007-08, including $5.5 billion in fair and sufficient funding for New York City schools. Senator Parker said these numbers more than meet the New York Court of Appeals ruling in the Campaign For Fiscal Equity (CFE) case in which the state's highest court ordered that the state ensure a “sound basic education” for New York City schools. 

“High-needs schools, which have been shortchanged for years because of insider political dealing during past budget negotiations, will now get the resources needed to provide the best education possible,” said Senator Parker. This package is good for city schools desperately in need of resources as well as suburban and rural districts where homeowners have been subjected to punishing local tax burdens.

“We have finally begun the process of moving to funding schools based on student needs, not political power,” Senator Parker added. “This year, we created a new Foundation aid formula, limiting the role of politics from the equation and targeting high-needs school districts as the fundamental consideration in funding decisions.”

So that funding is spent wisely, this year’s aid increases are tied to new accountability measures. Districts with at least one school identified as requiring academic progress are required to draft accountability plans subject to State Education Department approval if they receive a minimum aid increase of 10 percent or $15 million next year. 

“Contracts for Excellence,” as the policy is called, must include provisions dedicating education aid investments to a selection of five proven strategies for improving student achievement: lower class size, school restructuring, teacher-quality initiatives, longer school sessions and full-day pre-kindergarten. 

The budget also requires that New York City’s Department of Education develop a plan for targeted class-size reductions within five years, as “studies have proven again and again that the smaller the class size and the more students relate to their teachers, the better are their chances of succeeding,” said Senator Parker.

Other accountability measures include funding for new technology to enhance  tracking of student progress. The funding will go toward development of a state-of-the-art computer modeling system that maps individual student academic growth, optimizing the state’s method for meeting federal “No Child Left Behind” record-keeping requirements. 

“Rather than rate a school’s success on whether its students fall above or below a certain rigidly defined achievement threshold, the new system – which we hope to fully implement within two or three years – will track how well individual students improve academically from year to year,” said Senator Parker.

“This new approach gives us a more complete picture of whether or not students and their schools are making adequate yearly progress,” he added. “It also ensures that attention is given to every student, not just to those targeted few whose academic improvement bumps districts into a higher-level achievement category.”

The budget also includes $142.6 million more for universal pre-kindergarten, bringing total funding to $437 million – an increase of $42.6 million over Governor Spitzer’s original proposal – “recognizing that the earlier we engage students with the tools of learning, the better equipped they will be for later academic challenges,” Senator Parker said. 

Other provisions include doubling the limit on new charter schools allowed in New York – from 100 to 200 – while setting aside transition aid in the amount of $22 million for host districts adversely impacted by a high density of charter schools. 

“The competitive edge of school choice helps our educational system thrive, preparing students to become effective leaders in the innovation and knowledge-based economy,” Senator Parker said. “At the same time, however, we recognize that charter school financing poses a hardship for some host districts where a climbing amount of taxpayer revenue ends up following students enrolled at charter schools.

“This transition aid plan recognizes and rectifies these concerns by establishing a pool of funding to ease host districts’ adjustment to new charter school enrollment,” Senator Parker added. 

In terms of higher education, funding for SUNY and CUNY is raised 3.1 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively, providing additional operating assistance for much-needed programs. The budget also increases funding levels for opportunity and student aid programs like HEOP, which is boosted by 5 percent, and TAP, which increases by $17 million.  

“We stand firm by our pledge to keep college affordable and to provide a lift to those who need it during college,” Senator Parker concluded.