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Commissioner: Schools may not recover from Guv's plan

ALBANY - State Education Commissioner David Steiner told lawmakers yesterday that if Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed cuts in education funding go through, the public schools may never fully recover.

While Steiner was making that well-received pitch to lawmakers for more state funding in the state budget, Paterson was telling reporters he is reviving his plan to greatly increase the number of charter schools statewide. His earlier effort was struck down by the legislature, even though failure to raise the cap threatened the state's chances for $700 million in the first round of competition for federal "Race to the Top" education funding.

"It's no secret New York State is having severe problems financially, so if there's money out there, you would think we'd want to go out and get it," Paterson said. "Who knows? We may still win in round one. But if not, I'm going to make sure we win round two."

Paterson said he will try to raise the cap to 460 charter schools, from the current 200, among which six charters remain available. His cap would hit a benchmark in the application that Paterson said would give New York the best chance at the funding.

In the legislature's budget hearing lawmakers sought to build support for stopping most or all of Paterson's cuts, and adding aid.

Paterson proposes cutting school aid by $1.1 billion, or about 5 percent, to contend with a fiscal crisis and a nearly $8-billion deficit projected for the fiscal year beginning April 1.

Paterson's budget division says that even with the cut, school aid has increased 42 percent, or more than $6 billion, since 2003-04 and most districts have reserves to cover the lost aid without cutting programs or raising local property taxes.

But Steiner said slowing down the steady rise in funding for schools, required by the state's highest court in a New York City schools case, will hurt state finances for years.

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