Budget's In, Schools Win
Queens lawmakers from both sides of the aisle hailed the new $122 billion state budget passed over the weekend, singling out the additional millions of dollars allotted to city schools and other provisions that will provide weapons to attack the persistent problem of overcrowded classrooms.
Governor Eliot Spitzer, in analyzing the 2007- 2008 spending plan, also pointed to "an historic level of investment in schools through a new aid formula based on need".
The governor, showing no signs of the rancor that marked the budget negotiations, listed other benefits in the budget, including a $1 billion cut in Medicaid spending, a major property tax cut, state aid to cities, including New York City, and the closing of some tax loopholes.
"This budget marks a tremendous achievement in focusing government on making smarter, more responsible choices for the future," Spitzer said. "Taken together, these proposals will set New York on a new path, and I applaud the legislature for joining me in this important first step."
Spitzer was equally excited about the education portion of the spending plan, saying, "There has never been a better budget for education. We are providing ample resources, targeting them where they are needed most and insisting on accountability."
Total funding for education comes to $19.64 billion, of which $1.76 billion is additional funding above previous year levels. The city's share is about $7.5 billion.
The new funding will be linked to accountability measures, including a call to school officials to produce "measurable results in student outcomes", including smaller class sizes.
Directing her comments to the class size issue, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D- Ridgewood), chair of the Education Committee, stated that reducing class size had been a priority of the Assembly Democratic majority throughout the budget negotiations.
Nolan, who with Assemblymember Rory Lancman (D- Flushing), cosponsored a class size reduction bill, said she believed the legislation "gives parents an opportunity to hold the city of New York accountable on class size, where classes are so much larger than the rest of the state".
Lancman, a freshman lawmaker, said that Spitzer and the legislature are "ensuring that the historic increase in state education aid being sent to New York City is directed toward the one educational improvement that both the courts, parents and common sense tell us will have the biggest impact- lowering class sizes".
Among Republicans, state Senator Frank Padavan (Bellerose) noted that school overcrowding, one of the major problems affecting schools in Queens and
school overcrowding, one of the major problems affecting schools in Queens and throughout New York City, would now be addressed by new regulations in the new budget. He stated: "New York City will now have to show us that they are actively reducing class size and reducing studentto teacher ratios, a measure that has not been called for in the past but will be mandated.
"In essence, we are forcing the elimination of overcrowding in our schools." But that may not come easily.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who welcomed the additional school funding that is in the budget, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are on record as being opposed to class size reduction.
Asemblymember Ivan Lafayette (D- Jackson Heights) said he recently discussed the issue with Klein and, he says, Klein does not agree with the idea because it requires building more schools and hiring more teachers.
"However," said Lafayette, "what Chancellor Klein fails to understand is that these additional teachers and new seats would not be done all at once, but would take place over a period of five years as the new schools are constructed. It's a gradual process."
Another controversial provision in the new budget calls for the opening of 200 more charter schools, including 50 in New York City.
New York City was not the only area of the state to receive a large boost in school financial aid. In a battle to keep pace with the city's increased school aid, Long Island's eight state senators, all Republicans, waged a hard- and successful- fight with the governor to increase their school aid share.
One of Spitzer's major battles of the budget, was his plan to cut Medicaid and hospital and nursing home costs by $1.3 billon. He was successful in decreasing costs by $1 billion. This includes reducing the rate of growth of Medicaid from an average of 8 percent a year to 1 percent. The hospital reimbursement program will be reined in and updated for the first time since 1994, Spitzer said, and graduate medical education monies that are paid to the major teaching hospitals, which have been the highest in the nation, will also be slashed.
Meanwhile, new efforts will be made to cut Medicaid fraud to generate about $430 million in 2007- 2008.
On the other side of the ledger, Spitzer's budget will expand Child Health Plus to create accessibility for 400,000 more children under 19, streamlines Medicaid enrollment to help 900,000 uninsured adults get into Medicaid and spends $200 million on disease prevention and primary care and $100 million on stem cell research. Several measures will also be taken to improve care of the elderly. In addition, the budget:
+Provides $1.3 billion in additional property tax relief, including additional benefits for seniors.
+Sets up a four-year, $200 million program of aid to cities throughout the state. New York City will receive $20 million in such aid.
+Institutes business tax relief totaling $1.50 million, but also closes some corporate tax loopholes to increase revenues by $405 million.