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NY ed commissioner outlines Regents budget request

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The Board of Regents is seeking a 3.5 percent increase in funds for New York's public schools, about $100 million more than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes in his budget for the next fiscal year.

Education Commissioner John King outlined the board's funding request, specifically in formula aid, during a joint budget hearing Tuesday of Assembly and Senate members.

The Regents propose a $75 million investment in full-day, pre-kindergarten programs for high-needs students and seek $9 million for overdue payments to hearing officers involved in tenured teacher cases. The plan also proposes $1.5 million for development of new English language arts exams for ninth- and tenth-grade students and $500,000 for a pilot computer testing program.

Cuomo's proposal would set aside $25 million for pre-kindergarten programs in the form of competitive grants, along with $20 million in competitive grants for extended learning time and $11 million for stipends for high-performing teachers.

While competitive grants are useful for certain pilot programs, King said, programs that are proven effective, such as pre-kindergarten, should be available for all within the school aid formula.

"The evidence is longstanding and overwhelming that pre-K is a good investment," the commissioner said.

The Regents budget recommends a formula aid increase of $709 million, compared with $610 million in Cuomo's plan. The governor would supplement spending with $203 million in fiscal stabilization funds and the competitive grants.

Lawmakers also heard from Council of School Superintendents Deputy Director Robert Lowry, who said that despite the proposed aid increase, 84 percent of districts would still receive less from the state than they did four years ago. Many districts see financial and educational insolvency in the future, he said.

But Lowry praised Cuomo's inclusion of funding above the general aid increase and called the proposal "more positive than we anticipated."

The New York State United Teachers union said the governor's plan to tie state education aid increases to the implementation of teacher evaluation plans created uncertainty for districts, and the Alliance for Quality Education testified the proposed spending on schools was inadequate to avoid classroom cuts.