New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may start to feel heat to keep his promises after more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers gathered this week to put pressure on him to fulfill his ambitious plan of a $1.9 billion hike in school aid. Additionally, on Friday, a representative sampling of the 83 state senators and assemblymen sent a letter to his offices to lobby for the governor to follow through.
The Legislature is gearing up for a fight for more aid after the message was made explicit by being delivered on the first real work day of a new legislative session and a week ahead of the release of Cuomo's budget.
"This is an attempt by 83 members of the Legislature to say that education funding is a priority this year," declared Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman, Catherine Nolan, D-Queens.
Some lawmakers have already expressed displeasure with the state's recent handling of several education issues, including lack of funding for items such as teacher training. Meanwhile, the letter to Cuomo was absent of the signatures of key Republicans on the Senate and Assembly education committees.
"This is not an urban versus rural, downstate versus upstate issue," said state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg. "This affects all of our children."
Lawmakers, in the letter sent to Cuomo, urge that the state is still lagging woefully in funding public schools despite funding increases for education in New York's past two budgets. More than 70% of schools still receive less state funding than in the recession years of 2008-2009 as it cited from a statistic from the nonprofit education advocacy group, Alliance for Quality Education.
"Our schools need $1.9 billion in additional aid, distributed in an equitable formula, to overcome the cuts of prior years and prepare our students for the global economy," the letter concludes.
Though they did air general concerns such as overcrowded classrooms and cuts to programs such as languages and arts, lawmakers did not specify how that money should be spent.
In its spending recommendations last month, the state Board of Regents called for a $1.3 billion increase in school aid, including $125 million more for instructional development and an increased emphasis on funding high-need areas.
As Kristen V. Brown of Albany Times-Union reports, arguing that $1.3 billion is not enough to reverse the cutbacks schools have had to make in recent years, the Alliance for Quality Education, whose director spoke alongside lawmakers on Monday, has called for the $1.9 billion increase.
Education funding will increase by about 5% according to Cuomo, but a spending cap he set in 2011 that ties education aid to personal income growth means it should only grow by about 3.4%. In addition, he said a priority in this budget is education funding. He is also calling for expensive measures such as universal prekindergarten. At the same time, the governor has outlined plans for about $2.2 billion in tax breaks.
On January 21st, Cuomo is expected to release his spending plan. Lawmakers will have until the end of March to adopt the $135 billion budget.