The 2016 state legislative session kicked off Wednesday with Assembly speaker Carl Heastie outlining his legislative wish list.
The Bronx legislator suggested he will continue to advocate for more funding for education, and for more resources for struggling schools in particular. He also said he would push for pre-kindergarten funding and for the Senate to pass a state-level DREAM Act.
As speaker, Heastie has the power to decide which bills get considered and will be involved in crafting the details of the budget. The initiatives are consistent with Heastie’s past commitments to increase school funding and earned him quick praise from the state teacher’s union.
Here’s a quick breakdown of his education priorities:
Last year’s state budget included $23.5 billion for education, which officials touted as a record high. Heastie said he’d like to build on last year’s “historic investment” and offer more support to the state’s struggling schools.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed a bill last year that designated some schools as persistently struggling and others as struggling. Both could face takeover from an outside entity, or a “receiver,” if they fail to meet academic benchmarks in one or two years — but only persistently struggling schools were given extra funding through that legislation.
Adding more support for struggling schools is an agenda item for a number of education advocates this year. The New York State Educational Conference Board, which includes the state teachers union and school boards association, has called the issue a top priority.
Heastie said he’s committed to making sure pre-kindergarten programs are “adequately funded” throughout the state — a bigger issue outside of New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a few weeks ago that a record 68,500 students were enrolled in full-day pre-K this year.
Heastie wants to provide child care assistance at state colleges. He also said he would push the State Senate to pass the DREAM Act, which would expand the availability of state financial aid to undocumented immigrant students. Last year, the Assembly passed that bill, but it was left out of the final budget deal.
Young men of color
Heastie wants New York state to provide more support to young men of color by embracing President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
The Board of Regents unveiled a $50 million plan to do that last month, which would boost funding for career and technical education programs and create a Teacher Opportunity Corps to offer financial help to prospective teachers of color.