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Spitzer budget bolsters city schools

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In his budget plan unveiled Jan. 31, Spitzer proposed the $639 million increase that combined with money pledged from the city would give city schools an additional $1.17 billion next year. Spitzer's four-year plan would raise the state's total annual education aid to the city by $3.2 billion from $7.1 billion now to over $10 billion by 2011.Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the plan in testimony before the Assembly Monday, calling it a "historic long-overdue funding increase." But he added that the proportion of all the state's school money going to the five boroughs under Spitzer's plan remains unchanged."We're getting more money, but it's exactly the same share that we have gotten in the past ... notwithstanding the fact that this city sends $11 billion more to the state than we get back," Bloomberg said.Spitzer proposed boosting aid to school districts around the state by $7 billion annually in four years. His plan surpasses the minimum $1.93 billion increase set by the Court of Appeals in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision last year.State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he was pleased by the governor's proposed increases and expected the budget passed by the Legislature would include them. But he echoed the mayor's concerns over a separate cut of $660 million over two fiscal years, unrelated to the school aid."What [Spitzer's] doing at the same time is withholding from the city a substantial amount of money, over $600 million according to the mayor, which will impact on the city," Padavan said. He rejected Spitzer's argument that the city is gaining overall, partly because of the school aid increase. "The education [funding] should stand on it's own," Padavan said.While many lauded the increase in school funds, some advocates are wary of how the money will be spent. Leonie Haimson, leader of the organization Class Size Matters, said Spitzer has reneged on campaign promises to create smaller classes."He ran ads on smaller classes. We know that the city doesn't plan to spend the money that way and we're really looking for him to come through on his promise to New York," Haimson said.Spitzer mentioned lowering class size as one of many solutions troubled districts can use to help students. Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Flushing) and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten Monday called on the governor to force New York City to use at least a quarter of its new aid to lower class size.Spitzer's aid proposal comes bundled with a "contract" that districts sign on to. Leaders of persistently failing school districts could be removed if the new funding does not translate into higher test scores.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 174.

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