Nearly a quarter of a $1.3 billion request for extra funds by the Board of Regents is targeted toward training teachers, communicating with parents and adding more preschool seats.
The targeted funds, which total $300 million, are four times more than what the Regents asked for last year and represent a significantly larger share of the budget request. Officials said the proposal, which includes $125 million for professional development for teachers, was in part an acknowledgement of new challenges faced due to Common Core standards and teacher evaluations.
Regent James Tallon, chair of the state aid committee, called the funding “a discrete commitment to professional development” to address concerns that teachers and schools weren’t being supported enough to effectively implement statewide policies.
The entire package of budget priorities deals primarily with how increased state aid should be spent. It represents a 4.7 percent increase over last year’s $20.9 billion total.
The proposals comes just over a month before Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes his 2014-15 executive budget and officially kicks off negotiation in the legislature.
Some of that back and forth will center around funding Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s plan to add 50,000 full-day prekindergarten seats in New York City, which he has estimated will cost $530 million annually. De Blasio wants the state to let him to tax wealthy city residents to pay for the expansion, but the plan has received reluctant support so far.
The Regents proposal asks for $125 million for pre-K, but the funding would be allocated based on need. Tallon said the funding could go toward funding seats in New York City, but that officials would like to see more pre-K seats added throughout the state
“There’s wonderful attention being paid to this in New York City, [but] it’s a statewide issue,” Tallon said. “All the kids in the state deserve this attention.”
The Regents proposed another $125 million to be spent on professional development and the remaining $50 million would be spent on technology upgrades and more textbooks.
The need for more time and resources for professional development has been a theme for months amid ongoing concerns that schools aren’t adequately equipped to properly shift instructional practices to align to new learning standards or meet teaching standards for evaluation.
According to the Regents’ request, the funding could be used to pay for substitutes while teachers are taking their own classes, or used to pay them overtime for staying at work longer as part of the training.
While the state legislature rarely takes up the Regents’ budget priority package in full, the professional development piece has bipartisan support. Republican State Sen. John Flanagan last week also called for extra professional development funding.
Districts already received hundreds of millions of dollars in professional development support through federal funds called Title 2A grants. New York City received nearly $100 million in the grants this year, which are disbursed to districts with large populations of high-need students.
But officials said those funds aren’t used as effectively as they could be.
“This notion of a blank check that Title 2A has been for some years, that era’s got to go,” said Assistant Commissioner Ken Slentz, who added that the state’s professional development funding “will have to have strings attached.”
The Regents budget overall budget proposal was criticized by advocates who want the state legislature to show a greater commitment to restoring funds that were cut during years of the Great Recession.
“Investing only $1.3 billion will not be enough to reverse the devastating classroom cuts that students have absorbed in recent years much less provide what is needed to close the gap in opportunity between rich and poor school districts,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.