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NY Gov. Paterson Pulls A Scrooge, Pulls Money from Schools

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 23, 2009 11:50 AM

New York Governor David Paterson recently announced his plans to withhold $750 million worth of aid to New York public schools, local governments and health insurers already promised, planned and budgeted for by those institutions. This action comes due to a failure of the legislature to cut state spending as much as the Governor would have liked. To ease the state's cash shortage, Paterson will keep the school funds in the state's pocket, for now. 

As might be expected, school groups are less than pleased by this strategy. Paterson was sued by a group including the New York State United Teachers, New York State School Boards Association, New York State Council of School Superintendents, the School Administrators Association of New York State, and others.

In response, Governor Paterson has stated that he will not let such "special interests" ruin the state's credit.

Unexpected cuts mid-year are much harder to compensate for noted Kevin Casey, executive director of the School Administrators Association of New York. Schools will have to cope with an across-the-board 10 percent, or $150 million, paring of the $1.5 billion of aid payments due tomorrow to the schools.

The lawsuit centers on whether these last minute cuts by Paterson are actually an impounding of state funds, something the Governor is prohibited from doing by state law. "[T]he governor's actions are clearly impoundment by another name, and the courts have long determined he does not have that authority," said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader John Sampson of Brooklyn.

A school funding fracas is old news to citizens of states such as California who have been coping with slashed education budgets and limited aid for years. Last January, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made headlines by proposing to withhold funds for schools supposedly guaranteed under California Prop 98, in addition to drastic budget cuts. A more recent review of the school funding process by the Los Angeles Times said, "the system holds local schools hostage to the state's roller-coaster fiscal cycle and chuckleheaded budget policies in Sacramento."

The disarray in California almost makes Governor Paterson's action seem measured in comparison. At present, New York schools spend $15,981 per pupil in 2007, the most of any state and 65 percent more than average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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