Mixed Bag of Victories and Set Backs in NY State Budget

Education organizers rallied in Albany in early March. 
Picture via Citizen Action of NY

After months of intense organizing in Albany and across the state, education organizers in New York got a mix of victories and setbacks in the new state budget.

Groups like Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and Citizen Action of NY have been leading regular protests at the state capitol, focusing especially on increasing the amount of state funding for schools. Despite a 2006 ruling from the NY supreme court that found the state was failing to adequately fund public schools, the NY legislature is still around $2.2 billion behind in school funding.

Throughout the budget fight, Governor Andrew Cuomo ignored calls for increased funding and instead foucsed on pushing for more charter schools and for teacher evaluations to be tied more tightly to students' standardized test scores. 

In a press statement, AQE outlines what their efforts won in the state budget: 

"The budget contains $1.6 billion in new school funding including $1.3 billion in direct school aid as well as funding for struggling schools, grants and other programs. This new funding includes a mix of Foundation Aid and GEA that we will need to evaluate further to determine if it is fair. While the school funding increase is very substantial, it does not meet the $2.2 billion needed to make real progress on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. 

One of our biggest priorities is, and always has been, struggling schools in high poverty communities. The Governor’s insistence on labeling these schools as “failing” is stigmatizing and counterproductive. Instead of these schools getting the Cuomo death penalty, this budget gives them a lifeline. Even the Governor, despite his rhetoric dismissing the importance of funding, agreed on the need to invest $3 million in each of these schools. This was a major victory for students and will provide the money needed to make these schools into great community schools.

Senator Skelos made it clear that Senate Majority was united with the Governor in pushing his anti-public education agenda. The State Assembly was the only line of defense. Speaker Heastie and the Assembly showed tremendous unity and succeeded in defeating some of the worst of the Governor’s proposals. The Governor lost on the private school tax credit, on increased funding for charter schools and on the size of the school aid increase.

On testing and teacher evaluations, while the outcome is better than the Governor’s proposal there is definitely too much emphasis on high stakes testing in the evaluations. This budget will certainly provoke a growth in the opt-out movement as more and more parents say no to the Governor’s test and punish agenda.

On pre-K, the enacted budget includes $30 million to expand pre-K for three and four year olds outside New York City which is an important, though small, step in the right direction.

Finally, it was very disappointing that the DREAM Act was left out of the state budget and it should be enacted on its own merits before this legislative session is done." 

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