Cuomo's Education Vision, In Dollars

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday made large gestures beefing up pre-kindergarten with a $1.5 billion spending increase over five years; a plan to spend $720 million on after-school programs over five years; and a $2 billion bond proposal to help fund education initiatives like new technology and improved infrastructure.

Some groups are happy; others are questioning exactly how far these dollar amounts will stretch. Here's a breakdown of some education highlights from the governor's proposal, starting with the immediate future -- the next fiscal year:

Overall education spending will increase. For FY2014-2015, the governor proposed a total increase in education aid of $807 million. That figure includes the first batch of expanded pre-k funding. Overall, it is a disappointment to local school districts.

"We're finding that the state is, in our mind, not picking up its fair share and is saying we're going to push a lot of these costs on down to the locals but then we're going to limit what you can raise locally," said Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. 

Kremer said the governor's proposal coupled with limits on raising taxes are putting a squeeze on districts. He said the NYSSBA estimates that districts need an increase in education aid of at least $1.5 billion to maintain current programs.

Pre-k. The budget proposal includes a commitment to spend $1.5 billion on pre-k by infusing the budget with $100 million each year over the next five years. Again, this is seen by many as inadequate, given that Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking for about three times that amount for New York City alone.

"A hundred million dollars in the first year doesn't get us very far," said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, though he acknowledged that the funding increase "is a start."

Barnett estimated that next year's increase in spending could serve about 4 percent of the state's four-year-olds. He added that he is looking for more details on how many children the governor's plan would serve overall.

"What we need is a plan that says 'here's how many kids we are going to serve, this is how much it costs per kid, so we're going to make this much money available.' As opposed to a plan that says 'we're going to make this much money available' and then it's unclear what that translates into."

After-school. The executive budget proposes to spend $720 million over five years. The first $160 million of that amount would be available in the 2015-2016 school year. The New York State Afterschool Network liked this proposal.

“New York has a tremendous foundation of high-quality programs that can be quickly scaled up under the governor’s proposal to reach more than 100,000 students who currently have no access to after-school experiences,” said Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, executive director of NYSAN.

That bond program. Cuomo said he wants voters to decide on a $2 billion bond initiative which would help pay for education technology in schools such as infrastructure upgrades and high-speed internet as well as construction of pre-k classroom space. The governor wants the bond issue to come before voters in Nov. 2014.

Merit Pay. The governor proposed a "teacher excellence fund" of $20 million to reward top-rated teachers. To qualify, teachers must be rated "highly effective" on their evaluations. Eligible teachers could receive up to $20,000 for the year.

Common Core. The governor took the opportunity of his budget address to confront concerns about the new learning standards. He proposed a panel made up of "experts" and lawmakers to review implementation of the Common Core. Cuomo reiterated his support of the standards but said "the way it has been managed by the Board of Regents has been flawed."

In response, John King, the state education commissioner, and Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, conceded the point.

"We are raising standards and changing instruction across a state with nearly 700 school districts and millions of students," said King and Tisch in a joint statement. "Any change as significant as the shift to the Common Core requires adjustments along the way. We have already made some. We have shortened testing time. We have asked for and received a federal waiver to stop double testing some 50,000 eighth grade students in accelerated math."

They also said they would seek another waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to offer alternatives to testing for English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Standardized testing. The governor said students in kindergarten through second grade should not take standardized tests, and proposed eliminating them, something the State Education Department also has proposed.