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Schumer warns proposed funding change could cost LI schools $16.8M

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks with Santiago Pelaez, 8,

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks with Santiago Pelaez, 8, at Levittown Memorial Education Center, as he announces the tug of war over federal school aid tied to revisions of the controversial No Child Left Behind education law that appears headed for overhaul by Congress this year after a long delay on Monday, July 13, 2015 in Levittown. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Washington lawmakers, after years of foot-dragging, are accelerating efforts to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act that has sparked complaints from schools on Long Island and elsewhere that the law is too exacting in its requirements for student testing and remediation.

Proposed revisions in both the U.S. Senate and House would give states, including New York, more latitude than they now have in setting academic standards for students and deciding how to deal with failing schools. One particular amendment, however, could result in substantial losses of money for the poorest districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) visited a Levittown school Monday to warn against a push by some Sunbelt-area senators to change the federal formula used in distributing more than $14 billion a year in Title I money, which funds remediation in reading and math.

Schumer estimated that the proposed change would create a net loss of $300 million for New York State, including $16.8 million for the Island.

"We can't afford to pull the rug out from under our school districts over summer vacation," said the senator, who last week issued a similar warning at an upstate news conference.

The Senate is expected later this week to debate and vote on the amendment sponsored by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Michael Bennett (D-Colo.). The measure would base aid to schools on an average national cost per student, rather than average state costs, as is now the case.

That, experts said, would have the effect of shifting money away from Eastern and Midwestern states in favor of states in the South and the West. The American Association of School Administrators, which represents school superintendents nationwide, had calculated the formula change would cause net losses for 15 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

For Levittown, the estimated aid loss would be $253,000 -- equivalent to about 1.3 percent of the district's overall budget. For poorer districts, the proportional loss would be greater, because aid distribution is guided in part by the numbers of impoverished students living in districts.

Freeport, for example, would lose an estimated $419,000, or 2.5 percent of its budgeted funding.

"Title I money is very pivotal to our mission here," said Kishore Kuncham, Freeport's superintendent. "I'd like to applaud Senator Schumer for his sensitivity to this issue."

Title I funding is the federal government's largest investment in elementary and secondary education. The program was launched a half-century ago, in 1965, as part of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson's domestic economic and social reforms.

At that time, the federal law was called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA.

In 2002, the law was sharply revised at the urging of President George W. Bush and renamed the No Child Left Behind Act. The revamped measure required annual testing in reading and math for all students in grades 3-8, along with targeted improvements in test scores for schools and districts.

The latest amended law now being debated in the Senate has been renamed again as the Every Child Achieves Act. It would preserve the annual testing requirement, but give states more authority in deciding how to measure academic improvements.

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