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LI schools gain $75.3M in aid under Cuomo’s proposed budget

Kindergartners at Unity Drive Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Center

Kindergartners at Unity Drive Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Center in Centereach, on their first day of school on Sept. 6, 2016, learned to walk in single file and to hold onto the railing as they go up the stairs. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

ALBANY — Long Island public school districts would gain an additional $75.3 million in combined operating assistance, or a hike of more than 2.8 percent, under the state aid proposal for the 2017-18 academic year released Wednesday night by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget office.

Total state operating aid for the Nassau-Suffolk region would rise to more than $2.7 billion next year, according to the state’s figures.

State assistance to public schools is traditionally a murky subject, governed by a variety of distribution formulas that often shift from year to year. The subject became more contentious this year, in part because details of the governor’s plan were slow in emerging.

On Tuesday, Cuomo proposed what he described as a $1 billion increase in school support statewide. The addition, he said, represented a 4 percent increase.

Full details of how the proposed distribution of that money, for more than 700 districts across New York, were posted on a state website at about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“The people of this state believe that education is a priority,” Cuomo said Tuesday night in a webcast budget presentation. “I agree with them, and we put our proverbial money where our mouth is — the highest level of education spending in history.”

The Democratic governor’s willingness to raise education spending at a time when the state faces a potential deficit drew some praise this week from political rivals.

“He deserves credit for putting that much money on the table,” said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the Senate majority leader.

Julie Lutz, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said that she needed more time to analyze the state’s figures, but felt that much aid distribution appeared headed in the right direction.

“It looks like some districts in Suffolk County with great need got decent increases,” Lutz said.

Last April, after Cuomo and state legislators reached a budget agreement for 2016-17, Long Island’s public schools got total state financial assistance of $2.97 billion, which was a record.

Of that, $155 million came in additional state operating aid, which was nearly $50 million more than Cuomo had proposed in his budget in January 2016. That state funding included the $90-plus million owed in GEA restoration.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information from a Long Island school official who questioned the way numbers in the proposed 2017-18 executive budget were calculated. Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget, said in a statement to Newsday: “Governor Cuomo ended the [Gap Elimination Adjustment] once and for all last year, which is appropriately reflected on the school aid runs. The $1 billion increase to school aid is quite simply the difference in this year’s proposal and what schools received last year, including their final GEA payment.”

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