Less than a week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a modest increase in school spending, the state’s top education policymakers began plotting ways to secure more funding.
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa rallied her fellow board members at a meeting Monday, urging them to shift their focus onto the state legislature, which must negotiate a final budget with the governor. She said the board should come up with a unified plan for pressuring lawmakers, adding that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would continue to make the case for more funding in public and in private conversations with legislators.
“Now the question becomes: What else can we do to continue to move that agenda forward?” Rosa said to the group. “I’d like us to do it in a collective kind of way so that it doesn’t become a free-for-all.”
In the 2018 spending plan that Cuomo released last week, he proposed a $769 million increase in education funding — less than half the amount that the Board of Regents had called for. Rosa and Elia issued a statement soon after the budget came out saying they were “concerned.”
They may face an uphill battle as they prepare to urge lawmakers to haggle for more school aid. New York is staring down a projected budget deficit, responding to a federal tax overhaul that could limit the state’s ability to raise revenue, and bracing for the possibility of further federal cuts.
Even as the Regents got set to resist Cuomo’s spending plan, Commissioner Elia pushed back against another one of the governor’s proposals.
In his budget plan, Cuomo suggested that the state education department and his budget office be given final approval of local school-district budgets. The added oversight is meant to ensure that the neediest schools receive their fair share of funding, but Elia raised concerns that it could usurp local officials’ authority.
“I think there’s some concerns, clearly, on someone from [the state education department] and or the division of budget — separated from a school and their community — saying you can’t do something on your budget,” Elia told reporters Monday outside the Regents meeting.
Now that the governor has submitted his budget, lawmakers in each chamber will craft counteroffers. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, has already signaled that he wants a sizeable increase in school funding this year. But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, has spoken in general terms about spending restraint.
The board is also pushing for extra funding for specific purposes, such as support for students learning English. The Regents had called for spending an additional $85 million on English learners this year, but this request did not make it into the governor’s budget.
Regent Luis Reyes, a longtime advocate for English learners, asked how the board can ensure that this goal does not get lost in the shuffle.
“How do we spend the rest of January, February, and March publicly and/or privately to get this pillar to be built and not to be dismantled?” he asked.