Education leaders from across New York said Wednesday they'll need more money than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set aside for schools next year in order to avoid cuts and improve the overall climate.

District officials, union leaders and advocacy groups lined up to testify before a joint legislative committee examining spending for next year.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has proposed increasing spending on elementary and secondary schools by about 3 percent, or $769 million. That's about half of what state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said would be needed to carry out the policy-making Board of Regents' plans to expand early childhood education, prevent bullying and increase aid to districts.

"Unless we can find $800 million in a seat cushion somewhere ... we're more likely going to be working off the governor's budget," said Democratic Sen. Diane Savino, asking Elia how that would affect priorities like universal pre-K or college-readiness programs.

"There's a major issue there, isn't there?" Elia said.

The New York State School Boards Association said the state's nearly 700 school districts need an additional $1.5 billion just to maintain current programs.

"As soon as administrators see that there's less money in the system they'll cut the things that count the most to kids sometimes, things that make them really interested in schools like the music program the phys ed program," New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said.

Faced with a $4.4 billion deficit, the governor's $168 billion budget holds most spending flat. The increase to education includes $338 million in the Foundation Aid districts receive, along with funding to expand pre-K and after-school care in high-needs districts.

More From WIBX 950