I hope you enjoyed the holidays as much as I did. For me, there’s really nothing better than spending quality time with loved ones.
But a new year is upon us, and there’s much to do. And much to accomplish.
The State Legislature is beginning a new session here in Albany. And you can bet that education policy and education funding will again be top priorities for our legislators and the Governor.
Over the past year, the Board of Regents and I have focused our work on the critical need to bring greater equity to New York’s entire education system. By focusing on equity, we want to ensure that all students throughout the State have access to a high-quality education.
Equity was the driving force behind our plan to implement the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act. And it played a vitally important role in the process we used to revise and update the State’s learning standards.
This year, our commitment to equity will again be evident in everything we do, including our 2018 State Aid Proposal.
For the coming school year, we are proposing a $1.6 billion increase in funding for schools. If enacted, our proposal will bring School Aid to a record high of $27 billion.
But it’s not just about spending more money. It’s about making sure that money goes where it’s needed most.
We must continue to phase in the State’s Foundation Aid formula – the primary means by which schools receive their funding.
And we want to strengthen the supports for our English Language Learners and for our youngest students, as well as expand career and technical education opportunities.
Our plan will provide a minimum funding increase for all districts. And it will ensure all districts are able to respond to rising fixed costs.
The Regents and I are well-aware of New York’s looming fiscal challenges and projected budget deficit.
Our proposal recognizes these challenges and strikes the right balance between acknowledging the State’s fiscal condition and seeking the funding necessary to meet the needs of our students and our schools.
It is a thoughtful and responsible proposal.
In addition to our State Aid request, we’re also advancing legislative and budget priorities for the new year. These priorities focus on what we’re calling the four Es: Equity, Early learning, ESSA, and Efficiency.
In keeping with our goal of fostering greater equity, we’re pushing for increased opportunities for DREAMers; additional funding for Higher Education Opportunity Programs; enhanced postsecondary support and services for students and individuals with disabilities; and passage of the Museum Education Act, which would fund museum education programs, giving more students the chance to learn from their collections.
The Board is also seeking new resources to expand access to high-quality early learning programs and to implement the recommendations coming out of the Blue-Ribbon Committee on Early Learning. This group, made up of early childhood experts, educators, and parents, presented the Board of Regents with a set of recommendations to transform early care and learning in New York from birth to age eight.
The State also needs new funding to realize the full potential of our plan to implement ESSA – the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind. The Board is calling for additional resources to promote positive school climates and prevent bullying; to expand access to quality, high-level coursework; and to provide additional supports to struggling schools.
To be sure, New York is facing challenges. We’re anticipating a large budget shortfall; the new, federal tax reform law contains provisions that are likely to hurt New York’s schools; and we continue to face an influx of students from around the world who are arriving at our schools with little or no English language skills – and, in some cases, with little or no formal education. We have faced significant challenges before, and our teachers, parents, and school leaders always rise to the challenge.
Our work won’t wait for conditions to improve. So, we will innovate, concentrate on what works, and press on. We will find ways to educate all children to high standards.
We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature and in the Executive’s office to move our initiatives forward.
The Board of Regents, the State Education Department and I pledge to keep equity at the forefront of our work. In doing so, we will continue to create more high-quality learning opportunities, especially for our students most in need.
And we encourage all of you to reach out to your elected State officials and let them know that funding for education must be a priority this year. The future of New York’s children depends on it.
MaryEllen Elia is New York State Education Commissioner.
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