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Are ed cuts killing parity between school districts

Jan 26, 2011 10:03 am

A new report, released with a notable press conference in Albany on January 25, is stating that poor and minority students, including those in rural areas like ours, stand to suffer the most from the expected school aid cuts Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised. In its study "Unequal Opportunity = Unequal Results," the Alliance for Quality Education claims there is an education funding gap of $788 million between schools with a high percentage of poor students and the wealthiest districts. Higher income schools also spend $37,664 more per classroom each year, the report said. The Times Union reports in its piece about the press conference that the alliance of education advocates are saying that the budget ax should not continue to fall on schools, which took a $1.4 billion hit in last year's state budget, according to its executive director Billy Easton. "Kids lost a lot this year," Easton said. "Kids have been giving for a long time to balance the budget." Legislators and public-education activists have begun pushing back against expected school aid cuts a week before Cuomo has even released his budget, due February 1, and in advance of his proposed 2 percent property tax cap.

The group had few ideas for where the funding could come from because the state is facing a $10 billion budget gap, other than to say that Cuomo should restore the so-called "millionaire's tax," a surcharge on households making more than $300,000, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

The alliance received almost $500,000 in funding from New York State United Teachers and is partnering with the union for activism around the state. More than a dozen legislators from across the state attended the group's media event Tuesday.

The union funds will support rallies, local media events, phone banks and door-to-door campaigns to fight against school cuts. Easton said the goal is to unite educators, parents, clergy, politicians and community leaders around their schools.

About 70 percent of the average school district budget goes to salary, but Easton dismissed any notion that educators could accept a pay freeze to reduce district expenses.

He said it had become "stylish" to pass the cuts on to teachers and that schools would not be able to keep their best employees if salaries were cut any further.

Annual state school aid is more than $20 billion a year, which Cuomo said in his State of the State speech earlier this month translates into the highest per-student spending in the nation. The state Division of Budget says more than 70 percent of state school aid goes to salaries and benefits.

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