Hauppauge rally will demand more school aid

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Long Island teacher unions and their supporters will launch a regional campaign for expanded school financing at a rally Thursday in Hauppauge, where organizers expect more than a thousand participants.

Organizers said that state cap limitations on property taxes have led to teacher layoffs and cuts in student services, especially in the Island's poorer districts. Without greater financial support from the state, educational quality could be permanently eroded, these advocates added.

"We need to do something now about this educational crisis," said Danielle Asher, lead regional organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide advocacy group. "We want Albany to hear us now before they sit down to the negotiating table."

Asher said more than 100 local groups, including youth centers, agreed to support the effort.

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Thursday's event -- occurring more than three months before negotiations over state school aid normally begin in Albany -- underlines the intensity of the debate about educational financing. The rally is set for 4 p.m. in front of the H. Lee Dennison county office building, 100 Veterans Memorial Hwy.

Whether the situation facing schools has reached the crisis level is a matter of dispute. The state's elected leaders noted that, though they cut education aid for the 2011-12 school year to balance the budget, they approved an $805 million aid increase statewide for 2012-13. Another $712 million increase has been pledged for next year.

Regional taxpayer groups insisted, moreover, that the state's new caps on property taxes are proving to bring a net economic benefit.

"Number one, it brings some stability to the taxpayers -- especially that they're not going to face double-digit increases in the future," said Andrea Vecchio, an activist in the East Islip TaxPac group. "You know, taxes on Long Island have been an absolute disaster, and people can't get out of their houses because the expenses are more than the houses are worth."

The rally is part of a statewide drive for more school money known as Educate NY Now, announced last spring. Backers include New York State United Teachers, which is a statewide umbrella group, and the Albany-based Alliance for Quality Education, a group that often works in sync with teachers on education issues.

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