The perennial debate over how much New York spends on public schools returned to Albany Thursday, with some lawmakers joining a Capitol protest seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, joined dozens of parents and education advocates outside the office of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Their demand for more money for schools came as Cuomo and the Legislature work to craft a new state budget before the new state fiscal year begins Monday.
“We are saying to the governor: ‘It’s not your money, it’s our money,’” said Assemblyman Charles Baron, D-Brooklyn. “Don’t tell us you don’t have money for the children.”
Cuomo has proposed $956 million in new education funding for a total of $27.7 billion. Thursday’s protesters want at least $600 million more to comply with court rulings that found the state was underfunding public schools.
Cuomo has defended his proposed education investment, noting that New York already spends more per pupil than any other state, and that his $1 billion proposal would raise education spending to a record high.
He’s also warned lawmakers to avoid big spending this year because of the possibility of federal funding cuts and an economic downturn.
“We’re adding a billion dollars to the funding,” he said on New York City public radio Tuesday. “One billion and we already spend more than anyone else.”
Disputes over the level of education funding is common in the weeks before a budget vote. The Democrat-led Senate and Assembly both proposed $1.6 billion in their own budget proposals, which are often used as the basis for budget bargaining with the governor.
Education spending is just one of several issues up for debate as lawmakers look to put together a spending plan. Final votes are expected on Sunday, the day before a new budget goes into effect.
While proposals to legalize marijuana are not expected to make the final spending plan, lawmakers say proposals to impose new vehicular tolls in Manhattan beginning in 2021 are gaining momentum, as is a proposal to ban plastic bags statewide.
The tolls, which would vary based on time and day, would raise money for New York City’s aging subway system. No specific figures have been announced but estimates have put the toll as high as $12.
Lawmakers have also suggested including in the budget a new tax on luxury second homes in Manhattan worth more than $5 million. Revenue from that tax would also go to the city’s transit system.
Criminal justice reforms — including the elimination of cash bail for criminal defendants — is another outstanding issue that supporters want included in the budget.