By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY - The state Board of Regents asked the Legislature for a 3.5 percent increase in aid to public schools, or $709 million more than this year's budget, as well as $75 million for full-day pre-kindergarten and additional funding for other initiatives.
State Education Commissioner John King kicked off a daylong series of hearings Tuesday, where school leaders and advocacy groups argued for more money than what was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget.
Cuomo planned for a 3 percent increase in school aid -- $611 million, for a total of $20.8 billion -- plus an additional percentage point, or $203 million, to help districts with growing costs, such as retirees' pensions and health insurance.
The governor included another $75 million in his budget for competitive grants to fund several reform programs, including $25 million for expanding pre-K and $20 million for lengthening the school day or year.
King said the board recommends concentrating available resources on pre-K.
"We're certainly interested in talking with the governor and the Legislature over the next few months about funding for other valuable programs, but our strong view is that the most important investment we could make with dollars outside the state aid cap is an investment in early childhood education," King said Tuesday after his testimony.
During the presentation, he argued that pre-K saves taxpayers dollars down the line, as the programs help to prevent the need for remedial education in high school and college.
"The Regents chose to focus on early childhood education because there is overwhelming evidence that it is much more effective to give a student a high quality early education to start than it is to close achievement gaps later in a student's life," he told lawmakers.
The board's other requests include $9 million for settling an education department debt with arbitrators who participated in tenured-teacher hearings.
The board also asked for $2.5 million for improving testing. That includes $1.5 million to develop new English language arts tests for ninth and 10th graders, $500,000 to pilot computer-based testing and $500,000 to enhance test integrity with data forensics -- programs that detect cheating.
The board requested another $2 million to expand New York's Higher Education Opportunity Program, which has helped 4,600 high-needs students go to college.
Additionally, the board wants $2 million to provide adult basic education to undocumented young people who need it to obtain U.S. work authorization.
Superintendents from the "Big Five" school districts, including Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers, were set to testify later in the day.