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Mayor’s Upk Wish Granted In Budget

State Pumps Millions Into Pgm.

State lawmakers have once again approved an on-time bu dget-and it proved to be a big win for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to expand universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) programs.

Announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders last Saturday, Mar. 29, the budget deal includes $300 million toward expanding UPK in the city and $1.5 billion to build a statewide, statefunded UPK system over the next five years.

Schools across the Empire State stand to benefit from the budget deal, as education funding will increase by $1.1 billion this fiscal year, which began on Tuesday, Apr. 1.

This represents a 5.3 percent in education funds over the previous fiscal year.

The implementation of the controversial Common Core Educational Standards is also changed in the budget deal, as it included a series of reforms such as ending standardized bubble tests for young children, ensuring instructional time is used for education and protecting student privacy.

Charters schools across New York State will also receive an additional $250 per student in tuition payments the first year, followed by $350 in the second year and $500 the third year. The budget also allocates $2 billion toward technological upgrades in all schools.

“This budget builds on the state’s progress over the past three years in order to grow the economy and create new opportunities for New Yorkers and their families,” Cuomo said in announcing the budget’s official passage Monday night, Mar. 31. He added the budget “contains targeted investments that will transform our schools, ensure safer, cleaner and fairer communities and restore the public’s trust in government.”

Debate over funding UPK caused some friction between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. De Blasio asked the state for authority allowing the city to implement a onepercent tax on wealthy city residents to pay for expanded UPK programs. Cuomo, however, balked at the idea, insisting the state could provide ample UPK funding without raising taxes.

Following the budget deal’s announcement last Saturday, de Blasio struck a grateful tone in a statement to the press, thanking Cuomo and legislative leaders for achieving “something truly extraordinary.” No tax increases were authorized with the UPK budget allocation.

“With the investment announced today, this state has made a powerful and historic decision that will change the lives of tens of thousands of children,” de Blasio said. “We set out down this road nearly 18 months ago. Through ups and downs, we never wavered from our promise to the people of this city to expand full-day pre-K and afterschool for our children starting this September. Today that pledge became a reality.”

Local Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, praised the budget deal and the increased education funding in a statement Monday, Mar. 31.

“Overall, this year’s final budget is a smart spending plan that significantly increases support for, and access to, high-quality educational opportunities for our students in each and every grade,” Nolan said. “It takes real, tangible steps toward restoring the Gap Elimination Adjustment, presses pause on implementation of the Common Core, protects student privacy and takes steps to eliminate trailers in New York City schools. Most importantly it puts our students first and supports New York’s schools.”

De Blasio also praised the state government for including in the budget rent subsidies which aim to “transition [families] out of our shelter system.”

“This budget also recognizes the unprecedented homelessness crisis facing this city and our shared commitment to lift up people facing crisis,” the mayor added. “These new partnerships between the city and state will mean we can begin turning the tide and protecting our most vulnerable.”

Other provisions in the budget agreement, as outlined in a press release from the Governor’s Office, include the following:

– the elimination of a 5.9 percent income tax rate for all manufacturers and the introduction of a 20 percent real property tax credit for manufacturers who own or lease property in New York State;

– an additional $150 million in economic development capital funding and $70 million in tax credits for businesses in the Regional Economic Development Councils created in 2011 to boost economic development statewide;

– new anti-bribery and anticorruption laws to clean up state government;

– a $9 million increase in resources for the Environmental Protection Fund;

– legislation to combat against young drivers who send or read text messages while behind the wheel;

– funding for the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice to provide teenagers in the criminal justice system with alternatives to incarceration.

The budget deal, however, was panned by some activists for leaving out funds to enact the DREAM Act, legislation to provide undocumented young students with college aid and for reducing public transit funding by $30 million.

“It is highly disappointing that the New York State DREAM Act was not included in the state budget,” said Jazmin Cruz, a Brooklyn resident and member of Make the Road New York. “New York’s leading elected state officials are ignoring the demands from our communities, and we plan to hold them accountable. We are going to continue fighting until the DREAM becomes a reality.”

“The sacrifice of dedicated transit funds will mean less money available to provide subway, bus, Metro-North and Long Island Rail road service,” according to John Raskin of the Riders Alliance, a transportation advocacy coalition. “Taking away transit funding at the state level has a direct impact on levels of service, which still have not been restored to 2010 levels, and on fares, which continue to rise every other year.”

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