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Bloomberg, Pataki diverge over school funding tactics

Fellow Republicans Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg used their addresses to the state and city to discuss a host of topics impacting Queens, such as reviving the economy and decreasing crime — but the elected officials took different approaches in discussing education.

Two of the state’s most visible politicians, Pataki and Bloomberg, have differed this year on the need for money to come to Queens and the rest of New York City. Pataki has said the borough and city already get enough money, while Bloomberg said last Thursday more funds were needed to fulfill reforms already in motion in Queens.

“We cannot simply provide additional resources and maintain business as usual,” Pataki said during his 85-minute address in Albany Jan. 7. “Rather, we must enact broad-based reforms that ensure more of the money we spend on education makes it to the classroom and that someone is accountable for how it’s spent and how it helps our children.”

Pataki, who opposed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s lawsuit victory that showed the state’s school funding formula was inequitable, did not discuss his past position against the suit and instead focused on his appointed panel, which is trying to determine the cost to educate individual students.

Bloomberg, having gained control of the city’s schools from the state Legislature shortly after his 2001 election, delved into specifics during his speech and talked about building an additional 15,000 school seats in Queens, decreasing school crime in the borough and making the educational system more accountable.

“The focus in the classroom will remain on helping students master the basics of reading, writing and math,” Bloomberg said. “We’re simply going to give every child the chance to succeed. That’s what our education program is all about.”

Bloomberg, state lawmakers and school officials from Queens hailed a 4-1 decision by the New York State Court of Appeals in June that said schools in the borough and the rest of the city were not getting enough money to educate their students.

Ending a 10-year battle against the state brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of parents, attorneys and city council members, Chief Judge Judith Kaye said New York state violated its own constitution by considering an eighth-grade education the fulfillment of its obligation for a sound, basic education in New York City.

The court found that city students were being shortchanged by a state formula that gave them too small an amount of money given the city’s large contribution to the state’s tax pool.

Pataki, who had asserted that an eighth-grade education was enough to satisfy state constitutional requirements, has since sparred with Bloomberg about the amount of funding New York City schools receive. In his address, Pataki made it clear that he feels the borough and city are adequately funded.

“We have invested record resources, increasing state support for education,” said Pataki, first elected in 1994. “This year, schools received $4.7 billion more than they did when I took office. New York City alone receives $2.1 billion more.”

But in outlining plans to reform secondary schools, open smaller high schools, implement a new arts-in-the-classroom initiative and hold back third-graders who do not pass basic standardized requirements from going into fourth grade, Bloomberg hinted at the need for additional funds.

“It’s been 50 years since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. Does anyone seriously think we have ‘realized the dream’ for all our children?” Bloomberg asked. “It’s time to recognize both how far we’ve come — and not come — and recommit to our goal of a quality education for every student.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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