NY lawmakers press on school aid and standardized tests

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers pressed top state education officials Tuesday to clarify how school districts can handle uncertainties in state aid levels and dissatisfaction over student assessments.

Legislators are reviewing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, which would increase spending on state schools next year by $1.1 billion — if lawmakers pass several education reforms.

Cuomo's education budget was notable this year for not including "school aid runs" that specify how much state aid school district administrators can assume as they craft their budgets for public votes May 19. Cuomo administration officials said it's premature to release the runs since the proposed aid increases are conditional on reforms being adopted.

Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse told Acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin, who went before lawmakers to promote the Board of Regents' separate proposal to add $2 billion in state aid, that the uncertainty has left districts unclear how to budget.

"I don't know what advice to give the school districts," he said.

Berlin said the department has current state aid data that will be updated Feb. 13. But she said they could not provide school aid runs for next year without a formula from Cuomo's budget agency.

The final education spending number will be negotiated between the Legislature and the governor as part of the budget due April 1.

Assemblyman Edward Ra of Long Island told the education officials that he was hearing from local school boards frustrated by standardized testing for students, which factor into some teacher evaluations and school standings. Ra said the state seemed to be pushing ahead with assessments even as the movement to opt out of the tests grows.

Berlin and deputy commissioner Ken Wagner said most of the assessments are required by federal officials and they are working with districts that have concerns over unnecessary tests. But Wagner defended the basis of the tests.

"We think that the assessments serve a very important function to do two things, one is first to tell us exactly how all of our students are doing on an annual basis and second to provide information to the public, to the taxpayer," he said.

The daylong hearing served as a way for both lawmakers and those testifying to offer opinions on Cuomo's budget proposal two months before it's due.

Under questioning, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina echoed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and called the current cap on charter schools in New York City "reasonable." Cuomo has proposed raising the cap on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, from 460 to 560 and removing restrictions on where they can be built.

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