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Gov. Defends Education Cuts
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, NY – The heads of the state's largest school districts told the joint legislative fiscal committees that Gov. Paterson's budget cuts to education funding would lead to larger classes and fewer teachers.
Joel Klein, New York City school's Chancellor, said Paterson's proposed $600 million in cuts, plus other reductions to his schools, could result in 8,500 fewer teachers.
"We urge you to seriously consider that magnitude," said Klein, "and we hope that you can reduce or eliminate it because it will have a dyer impact on our students."
Members of other large school districts including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers also registered their complaints.
State senators and assembly members on the fiscal committees did not argue with the school leaders' criticisms of the governor's budget.
Carl Kruger, Senate Finance Committee Chair, said changes will have to be made.
"The executive budget recommends a draw-a-line-in-the-sand approach in terms of tough choices to make this year," said Kruger.
Governor Paterson defended the state budget cut saying the state has a large deficit and that most schools can afford to absorb the cuts by dipping into their reserve funds. He also pointed out that even with his proposed budget cuts, N.Y. would still spend over 60 percent above the national average per pupil.
The governor said he is not hearing much from lawmakers about how to fund any restorations.
"Everyone is saying that we shorted them on education and they're basically right, that's how difficult our budget deficit is right now," said Paterson, "That's why I'm surprised that the legislature has not indicated how they plan on closing this deficit. Every day there is a press conference about a different entity that they want to save and restore and that's great. Get up and tell everybody that you're going to advocate for them. But no one is talking about how we're going to close the deficit."
Paterson spoke at a gathering of charter schools advocates where he pledged to try again to work with the legislature to come up with a way to raise the states cap in charter schools. He says he might even add it to his 30-day amendments to his budget plan.
"Whether we would put it into the budget during the comment period or whether we would just use it as a stand alone bill, I'd like to see the cap raised," said Paterson.
In January, the legislature failed to act on a bill the governor proposed to expand the 200 hundred school cap to over 450 schools. The governor, at the time said, the inability to expand the cap could jeopardize the state's application for a competitive federal funding grant known as Race to the Top.
Peter Murphy, with the charter schools association, which advocated for the cap to be lifted, said the deadline for the second round of grants comes in late May. He said its possible rejection from the Federal Government in the first round could finally spur some action.
"Having got rejected from the Feds, should that occur, that should be a real wake up call among skeptics in the legislature who really did not focus on this until January," said Murphy.
Murphy agrees with those in the public schools that testified at the legislative hearing. In one aspect he believes the governor's education cuts will adversely effect students at charter schools and he wants those funds restored.