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Schools a focus as State of the State approaches

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Most schools in New York are feeling the pain of budget cuts, but the ones in rural, low-wealth districts have taken an unfair share of it, upstate representatives complain.

But to change the dynamic, options are few. One of them is to appeal to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose budget prerogatives are vast and whose popularity is high.

That’s what a group of upstate senators has done in a letter released Friday.

“While wealthier schools debate whether to curtail one of a multitude of foreign language offerings, arts or extracurricular activities, our schools struggle mightily to meet basic educational needs,” says the letter, signed by Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie and Joseph A. Griffo, Deputy Majority Leader Thomas W. Libous and 12 other Republican senators.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, also has pushed for changes to school aid via legislation.

And it’s not just the law that can change the game. There’s also the lawsuit.

In 2006, a state court ruled that the state had to provide $7 billion more in education funding as a result of a lawsuit from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

A group that was founded by the same man and is similarly named — the Campaign for Educational Equity — is studying the school-aid issue once more to see whether the state is living up to its constitutionally mandated funding duties.

“We think this will be very useful information for the Legislature and the governor so they can understand and remedy the problem, and as well for the public and districts and advocates who want to hold the state accountable,” said Jessica R. Wolff, policy director at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “It potentially would be good evidence for litigation in the future, if that becomes necessary.”

Seven upstate school districts will be part of the study but will be kept anonymous, Ms. Wolff said. It expands on a study taking place in New York City.

“We are going to make sure we have good geographic distribution,” she said. “We very much hope to have one in Northern New York.”

Mr. Cuomo, for his part, has not shed much light on his position regarding what some call school-aid funding disparities. But he’s sure to hear the positions of those from around the state who believe their allocation of state money isn’t fair.

Labor-backed advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education released a seven-minute “State of the Schools” video on YouTube to address the issue.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo on his many successes in his first year in office, but when it comes to equity and opportunity, there is more to be done,” Nikki Jones, the AQE director of communications, says in the video.

The group wants Mr. Cuomo to direct more state money toward low-wealth schools, which are abundant in the north country.

Mr. Cuomo will appoint a commission to study education from a student-centered perspective, the New York Daily News reported. He employed similar commissions to carry out hot-button issues on state mandates, Medicaid, government efficiency and, for a short time, prisons.

He is expected to unveil the plans at his State of the State address today in Albany. The state budget, which will outline state-aid numbers for specific north country schools, comes out later this month. Mr. Cuomo has argued that increasing school aid doesn’t necessarily get the desired result, which is this: students learning more.

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