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Pre-k comes under fire

Queens politicians and educators were quick to criticize Gov. George Pataki’s proposal to cut the state’s education budget by $1.24 billion, which could mean the elimination of both universal pre-kindgarten and funds to reduce large class sizes in the borough.

Pataki is aiming to cut education spending following three years of increases to the state’s public education system, jeopardizing approximately $450 million in funds for city schools as part of his plan to close the state’s $11.5 billion budget gap.

The governor made the announcement during his State of the State address Jan. 29 and outlined the rest of the state’s $90.8 billion budget, a drop of 8.5 percent in education funding from the current fiscal year.

Pataki’s cutback in education funds delivered a blow to Mayor Michael Bloomberg by wiping out $450 million from his preliminary budget blueprint at a time when the financially squeezed mayor is overhauling the city school system.

“I am here today because this week the governor turned his back on these children, the next generation of New Yorkers,” said Borough President Helen Marshall last week in a statement following the speech. “Governor, let’s invest in our schoolchildren and their education. Let’s not be penny-wise and pound foolish.”

Marshall suggested finding alternate revenues to fully fund city schools instead of making any cuts, such as authorizing more taxi medallion licenses or adding more red light cameras at certain intersections.

She said Pataki should consider supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed commuter tax as way to raise needed funds for the borough. Bloomberg has warned that he will be forced to eliminate 1,900 teaching jobs if the commuter tax does not go through.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he was outraged by the what he contended would be the largest cut to the state’s education budget in history. He said if Pataki’s budget passes, it would result in the elimination of the LADDER program, which funds universal pre-K, reduces classes size, and pays for maintaining buildings.

“The governor is aiming his harshest cuts at New York’s school children and working families,” Gianaris said. “During such difficult fiscal times, we should be working towards improving New York’s future through education of future generations. Instead, the governor has chosen to sacrifice our children’s education to compensate for other areas of his flawed budget.”

Educators were also spoke out against the governor’s plan to cut education funding.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the governor’s proposed budget could reverse gains made by failing public schools attempting to improve.

“We are deeply, deeply disappointed by Gov. Pataki’s proposed budget. His statement that ‘we have no choice’ other than to cut education spending is simply wrong,” she said.

Weingarten said increases in state and federal academic standards, such as the No Child Left Behind Act that ties funding to students’ academic performance, need to be supported by more state money to be successful.

“In New York City alone, two of the system’s most important successes — the turnaround of dozens of previously failing schools in the Chancellor’s District and the dramatic lessening of the teacher shortage — are the direct result of increased state and city investment in our schools and our kids,” she said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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