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School Districts, Lawmakers Seek Speedy Restoration Of Ed Funding

Reacting to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State message earlier this month, Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of Washington and Saratoga Counties said she was encouraged by the governor’s promises for education funding, but she did take particular issue with one aspect of the plan.

“I was very encouraged by the tone of the conversation about education and restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment monies. I’m looking to see it done in one year, not two.”

The Gap Elimination Adjustment, begun at the height of the recession in 2010, was intended to help fill a state budget gap. Now that the economy is improving, efforts have intensified to eliminate the cuts, which advocates claim hurt smaller districts disproportionately since many larger districts are not as reliant on state aid. Over the past few years, a majority of the GEA cuts have been restored.

One of the first moves by the GOP-led state Senate in the new session was to pass a bill calling for an end to the GEA. The Senate has taken a position to not pass a budget unless GEA funding is restored.

The small Greenwich Central School District in Washington County, attended by about 1,000 students, is displaying its advocacy goals for the new year on its website. Topping the list: the restoration of GEA funds.

The district says it has lost nearly $6 million in promised state aid. Since the 2009-2010 school year, the district has cut 10 percent of its staff, leading to larger class sizes, reductions in programs, and longer bus runs.

Last year, school superintendent Mark Fish stood next to Woerner to push for her bill to eliminate the GEA.

“We’re very proud of what we do here and we don’t want to start taking those opportunities from kids. AP classes, college credit, it’s important that our kids have the opportunity to compete here in upstate in New York,” said Fish.

Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, who represents many smaller school districts in Schenectady and Montgomery Counties, says the call from districts will become louder as the session plays out.

“So you will hear from schools across the state saying that this is something we’re not happy with. We haven’t been happy with it. And now you’re saying another two years…we want to see it end right now because it should have happened a long time ago.”

Santabarbara said he thinks the chances of passing the bill to restore the GEA funding is gaining traction in the Assembly.

“The whole idea of taking money from schools and using it for another purpose is something I don’t agree with and I think other members feel the same way.”

Meanwhile, advocates for charter schools are also calling for an increase in aid.

In his budget address, Cuomo also called for transforming low-performing schools to so-called community schools with more services available to students with special needs. He seeks to increase school funding by $1 billion.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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