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Pataki proposes increase in funding for boro schools

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Gov. George Pataki introduced education funding reforms Tuesday that would bring billions of dollars to public schools in Queens and across the city as part of his executive budget.

Pataki proposed a school package for the city that would provide $5.4 billion, an increase of $56 million, for the Department of Education this year in the state’s plan to comply with a court order to correct the education funding disparities between the city and the rest of the state.

“We have an obligation to make certain that our children are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Pataki said. “In meeting those obligations, we must make certain that the resources we provide are coupled with real reform.”

Outside of education, Pataki’s $100 billion budget includes proposals to restructure the health care and Medicaid system in a state takeover of long-term costs, which could save the city at least $15 million this year and more than $1.8 billion statewide annually in future years. The city would also save $160 million in changes to the sales tax and other taxes, contributing to a total of $400 million in aid for the city.

The governor wants to increase the state’s education spending by $140 million, bringing the total to $14.6 billion. New York City schools would receive $5.4 billion of that amount in the 2004-2005 school year, an increase of $56 million over last year’s funding.

Pataki is also working to replace the current school funding formula to adhere to the court decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The suit charged that the state has been shortchanging city students by thousands of dollars when compared with annual spending practices elsewhere in New York. After Pataki appealed the decision, a state Court of Appeals judge ruled in the CFE’s favor last year.

“Clearly the governor has heard the voices of advocates, experts, parents and schoolchil­dren,” said CFE’s executive director, Michael Rebell. “Unfortunat­ely, this down payment is only a wobbly baby step when a giant leap is needed.”

Pataki also wants to create a “sound education fund” with revenues from video gambling terminals, which would bring in $325 million this school year and grow to $2 billion over the next five years, he said. The fund would be targeted at city schools and other high needs schools in the state.

The governor said he would not increase tuition at the borough’s four City University campuses, although the system will see a 5 percent reduction in aid. The system would get a $1.1 billion package for capital improvements under Pataki’s plan.

Amid all these plans, Pataki is trying to close a $5.1 billion budget gap by restructuring the state pension system, containing costs from Medicaid and making cuts to mental health programs and state agency operations, he said.

“A growing economy alone will not solve the state’s fiscal difficulties,” he said Tuesday. “If we address the fiscal gaps inadequately or incorrectly in this critical upcoming year, we will not only face a bigger and more challenging problem next year, but we could well undermine the very economic growth so key to our future. A return to fiscal stability will only be achieved if we all agree to seize the moment, set priorities and adopt sound fiscal policies.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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