By Justin Mason
CAPITOL — State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, has joined a growing chorus of legislators opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to provide free college classes to state prisoners.
Tkaczyk, the former chairwoman of the Duanesburg Central School District’s Board of Education, said the taxpayer dollars needed to implement Cuomo’s plan
would be better allocated in the state’s public education system. She said schools in her district are already facing budgetary shortfalls that are affecting students.
“At a time when small city and rural school districts throughout my district and New York state continue to face funding shortages, and with our schools still funded at 2008 levels, we must focus our limited resources on eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment and fully funding our schools, rather than providing free college courses to inmates,” she said in a statement released this week.
Cuomo’s initiative would give inmates the option to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at no expense and would be implemented at 10 prisons across the state. The plan would cost $5,000 annually per inmate, according to figures released by the governor’s office last month.
The governor has argued that providing inmates a college education would help reduce recidivism and help curb the tax burden of housing inmates, which costs about $60,000 per individual jailed in state prisons. Though there are some programs in certain prisons that do provide inmates with a college education, Cuomo’s plan would be the first to pay for their degree with state funds.
Cuomo’s plan received a frosty reception from a number of local state legislators. Several Republicans and Democrats in the state Assembly came out against it, some of them vehemently. Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Melrose, launched an online petition in response to the initiative called Kids Before Cons. The petition has already garnered hundreds of names.
Assembly Democrats Angelo Santabarbara and Phil Steck are also opposed to the measure. Both believe the funding would be better spent on the public education system.
Senate Republicans have also roundly criticized the initiative. Sen. Kathy Marchione and Sen. Hugh Farley have both voiced opposition to the move.
“I think the general public sees it as an ill-conceived proposal,” said Farley, who has fielded dozens of calls from constituents speaking out against the measure.
Tkaczyk, however, is among only a few Senate Democrats to oppose the Democratic governor’s plan. Her opposition comes as she mounts her first re-election campaign after only narrowly winning the 46th District in 2013.
“While this policy may be well- intentioned, I cannot support an initiative that would divert essential funds away from students in good standing and their families and deny them the quality education,” she said.