Education fights will dominate final weeks of budget talks

Mar 17, 2014

The state Senate and Assembly are scheduled to begin conference committee meetings on Monday, now that both houses have finished with their resolutions laying out their positions. 

Sticking points include funding for charter schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans want to restore changes made by  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to three charter schools. The mayor says the schools can no longer  have rent-free space in existing public school buildings.

Cuomo, speaking at a business lunch, says protecting charter schools will be one of his top priorities in the budget.

“It’s essential that the charter movement be protected, and that the charter movement be supported,” Cuomo said, to applause.

Afterward the governor said no mayor should be allowed the power to both deny the schools free rent and block additional funding if they were forced to move. He says that would amount to a “de facto stop” of the charter movement.

The Assembly is not on board, however, with the charter proposal. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the money in the Senate plan could be better spent to help children at struggling public schools, where there’s already a classroom shortage.

“They don’t have Wall Street millionaires who can put ads on or contribute to campaigns, and therefore nobody represents them,” Silver said. “They’re doomed to sitting in trailers for the rest of their school career.”

Silver does back the Senate proposal to use over half a billion dollars in state funds to fully fund universal pre-kindergarten, as long as there are no preconditions or strings attached.

But Cuomo says there will not be a predetermined amount of money allocated for each city, and he wants proof that a school district is ready to begin a pre-K program in the fall, before he commits any new funding.

The three sides have until the end of the month to settle their differences and come up with a final spending plan.