Typically, a state budget hearing on education focuses on school aid. But on Tuesday in Albany, the conversation turned to another issue: bullying in schools and whether parents should be notified.
"I don't know what your position is on this, but I hope you would support the concept that we would notify the parents on an important issue," said Sen. Jim Tedisco (R - Glenville), "just like we would want them to be involved with other aspects of our educational system."
Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia noted it was a challenge, even as her office has sought to spend money on a campaign to focus on the issue.
"Parents don't even know that these things are happening on social media and carrying into the school," Elia said. "So I'm very focused on making sure parents are part of all of that."
Beyond the bullying issue, spending for schools in Governor Andrew Cuomo's $168 billion budget is another challenge for the commissioner as education officials and advocates sought more than the proposed $770 million increase.
"I think they are very concerned," Elia said. "We know this is a tough budget year. I think the proposal that came from the Regents was balanced, and the fact that we knew that particularly with foundation aid and the focus it stayed in place and moved forward."
Education advocates and the state teachers union says at least $1.5 billion is needed for schools just to keep existing services for teachers and students.
"[A billion and a half dollars] is what's needed just to prevent cuts alone," said Jasmine Gripper with the Alliance for Quality Education, "and if we want to maintain current services, $1.5 billion is the minimum. If we want to improve what is happening in schools, we need to be investing more."
Education is typically one of the most expensive items in the budget aside from health care. It can also be one of the most heated, as evidenced by Assemblyman Charles Barron earlier in January protesting Cuomo's budget address.
The budget is due to pass by March 31.