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February 10, 1999  

Mills: Stick by standards regardless of education funding
But teachers' unions demand dramatic aid increases to meet the higher standards

Commissioner of Education Richard Mills said this week that he would not relent in his quest for higher school standards, regardless of the outcome of the budget debate over school aid.

Commissioner Mills made his comments Tuesday while testifying before legislative hearings on the education component of Governor Pataki's proposed budget.

In his testimony, Commissioner Mills called for more school aid than the $11.9 billion proposed in Governor Pataki's budget.

All told, under the Governor's budget proposal school aid will have increased nearly 16 percent--more than twice the rate of inflation--in three years.

However, the $154 million increase that the Governor proposed for 1999-2000 is less than the increase for the two previous years.

Asked whether slower growth in state school aid might justify or require a relaxing or delay of new Regents standards, Mills stood firm. He said he would press ahead with new graduation and testing requirements regardless.

"How could I not?" he asked.

Legislators from both parties applauded when he concluded his testimony.

The substantial education spending increases in New York in the last three years have come on top of taxpayer support that was already among the highest in the country.

In 1996, New York's public schools spent $9,535 per student, third- highest in the nation and 56 percent above the national average, according to the National Education Association.

Two powerful teachers' unions, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the United Federation of Teachers, advocated increases in funding for schools, and made a clear effort to link school aid and higher standards.

For example, in its news release, NYSUT said "the proposed executive budget would halt, or even reverse, the progress New York has made in raising academic standards."

The union also urged legislators to provide school districts, especially those serving the largest numbers of poor students, with additional money to help them meet standards.

In calling for that funding increase, the union cited estimates that $300 million would be needed to fund extra instructional time and support services (such as summer school and remedial classes) to students for whom Regents-level courses are new.

The Business Council strongly supports higher standards in schools and has worked closely with Commissioner Mills on the issue. He addressed The Council's Board of Directors on this issue last December.