New York state owes poor schools $5.5 billion: advocates

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 15, 2012 7:28 PM
New York state owes poor schools $5.5 billion: advocates

(Reuters) - Education advocates on Wednesday pushed New York State to increase funding for schools in impoverished areas in the budget for the new fiscal year, saying those schools are owed $5.5 billion under a 2007 court ruling.

The Education Law Center, which absorbed the advocate group that had won the historic school funding lawsuit, did not specify how much extra funding it is seeking in the budget for poor school districts for the budget for fiscal 2013, which starts April 1.

New York's top court in 2007 had ruled that the state had failed to provide students in poor areas with the constitutionally required "sound, basic education."

New York had started to fulfill the court ruling by agreeing to a four-year increase in aid for students in so-called high needs areas. Spending rose more than $1 billion in 2007 and 2008, according to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the group that had won the lawsuit. There was no funding increase in 2009, however.

The state's tax revenue sank during the economic downturn, and education funding was cut by $2.7 billion in 2010. Children in poor school districts bore the brunt of those cuts, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity said.

"We're asking the legislature to revise the Executive's budget by allocating increased funds to the Foundation program to put the State back on track towards constitutional compliance," David Sciarra, executive director, of the Education Law Center, said in a statement.

The Foundation program was designed to fulfill the court ruling.

There has been considerable speculation that the Campaign for Fiscal Equality would again sue the state, but Nikki Jones, a spokeswoman for the group, said by telephone that it yet to decide whether to do so.

Spokespeople for Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos had no immediate comment.

Cuomo's proposed budget, which totals $132.5 billion, would increase school aid by $805 million in the new fiscal year, but only $290 million would count toward meeting the extra funding the legislature promised, Sciarra said in a letter to the governor and legislative leaders.

(Reporting By Joan Gralla; Editing by Leslie Adler)