- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s education commissioner told legislators Tuesday he would advocate for a $1.3 billion increase in education aid to help schools that lawmakers portrayed as increasingly stressed by cutbacks and educational mandates.

State Education Commissioner John King Jr. was peppered with questions at a state budget hearing by lawmakers concerned about the rollout of the new Common Core learning standards, potential prekindergarten costs and financially strapped schools.

The hearing came as the New York State Association of School Business Officials released a study showing school districts have lost 10 percent of their professional staff since the start of the recession. The study, which looked at 671 school districts outside the so-called Big 5 city districts, found 261 school districts showed signs of fiscal insolvency and 544 school districts showed signs of being unable to finance adequate long-term student performance.

“I have kids coming to my office telling me they can’t take books home” said Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Democrat who represents a largely rural eastern New York district.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed an $807 million increase in school aid in his budget, far less than many educational advocates are seeking for the state budget due April 1. King and the Board of Regents are recommending a $1.3 billion increase.

“We will strongly advocate for that over the next few weeks,” King said.

King also told lawmakers that statewide full-day prekindergarten would cost roughly $1.6 billion a year, which would be far more than the $500 million a year Cuomo would budget for once the program is fully rolled out after five years.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing for a small increase in the tax rates on wealthier New York City residents to cover an estimated $340 million annual pre-K cost citywide. Cuomo wants to fund pre-K statewide with existing money in the budget.

King continued to take heat over the rollout of the more rigorous Common Core standards. Lawmakers said parents and educators are frustrated by what they consider poorly planned and overly rushed changes to the curriculum.

The commissioner acknowledged that implementation of the standards has been imperfect, but again stressed the need for Common Core.

“I don’t think it makes sense to go backward and to retreat from the idea that students should be writing more, that students should be reading more,” he said.

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