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Boro ed funding to be restored

Queens schools are getting funding restored to last year's levels as part of the city budget passed last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week. But portions of that funding will come from state Contract for Excellence funding.

Of the mayor's cuts to the city Department of Education, $43.6 million were from Queens schools, Quinn told a roundtable meeting with reporters in Astoria. These schools will get $48.7 million in the upcoming school year, according to DOE figures.

"This is a critical issue for Queens, which faces some of the most overcrowding of any of the boroughs," Quinn said at the July 16 gathering.

Some $34 million of the restored funding for Queens schools comes from the City Council's discretionary funds, while $14.3 million comes from the Contracts for Excellence, according to DOE figures.

State funds under Contract for Excellence must be used for class size reduction, teacher and principal quality, English-language learner programs, increased time on task, pre-kindergarten and middle and high school restructuring.

The Queens Council members who joined Quinn at the discussion said they had mixed feelings about the budget negotiations this year.

"It's not a budget all of us are thrilled about," said City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), but he praised Quinn for "keeping schools going in the right direction."

"It's important to do everything we can to keep a continuity of service," said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) of the schools' funding level.

Quinn also said the City Council has set up two special funds that principals can apply to for extra money: $12 million for high-needs middle schools and $7 million for high-needs schools with large numbers of English-language learners.

"This is a huge issue in Queens," Quinn said. "There's no borough more diverse."

It is unclear how the schools whose funding levels were restored with state money will be able to spend it.

"You can't use state money to supplant city money," Quinn said, noting principals will have to document how the state funds are being used within the guidelines.

The Contract for Excellence funds were budgeted after advocate group Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a 13-year-long lawsuit against the state on the grounds that the city's 1.1 million children were being denied their constitutional rights to an equal education because city schools were underfunded.

City Council members and state legislators have long clashed over how to allocate funding to the city's schools. In May, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver held a news conference calling on the mayor and Council to restore the millions in education cuts, couching it in terms of "keeping promises."

"There were ways we could have had conversations that didn't end in finger-pointing. That didn't happen," Quinn said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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