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Politics and Government

Lawmakers say it's time to end limits on school funding

Katie Keier

Eight years after the stock market crash and the start of the recession, the New York state Senate leader say it’s time to get rid of a law that limits funding to some schools. The measure was created when the state had a $10 billion budget deficit now that the state is running  surpluses.

The law, enacted in 2010, is known by the obscure term the Gap Elimination Adjustment. It was designed to help cut the state’s then huge budget deficit. Instead of giving schools the funding that they were supposed to get under the state’s school aid formula, Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, withheld some of the money to help balance the budget.

Senate Republicans drew a line in the sand on the very first day of the 2016 session. They voted to get rid of the GEA, saying it has outlived its purpose. Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan said on the Senate floor exactly how high a priority that is for his caucus.

“It is very, very, very important that we eliminate the GEA in its entirety,” said Flanagan. “We will not have a budget if the GEA is not eliminated.”

An estimated $3 billion was withheld over the past  years six , primarily from suburban schools in areas that most GOP senators represent. The legislature has succeeded in recent years in partially restoring the funds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his spending plan released a few days after the Senate voted , says he, too, wants to get rid of the GEA. But he would like to phase it out more gradually, over a two-year period.  

Michael Borges, with the New York State Educational Conference Board, which includes school boards, the teachers union, superintendents and the PTA, says the governor’s proposal to wait to end the school funding limit is a major “disappointment.” He says there’s no rationale to keep it in place any longer.

“The governor on one hand, touts the fiscal soundness and the fact that he’s putting a billion dollars into a rainy day fund,” Borges said. “While at the same time withholding money from school districts that are owed to them.”

Billy Easton is with the school funding advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education.  He says that before ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment, Cuomo and the legislature need to first look at the entire school aid formula.

“We believe that the Gap Elimination Adjustment should be repaid,” Easton said. “But it should not be at the top of the list.”

He says New York has not yet fulfilled a ten year old court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. That ruling said over four billion more dollars need to be spent in the state’s poorest schools, in order to ensure every child’s constitutional right to an adequate education.

Meanwhile, hundreds of charter school parents and students are due at the Capitol on Wednesday for a rally. They say per pupil aid for charter schools has been frozen for six years, and it’s time to unfreeze it.

Cuomo wants to increase school aid overall by just under a billion dollars. The state Board of Regents, and a coalition of schools groups say that’s only about half of what’s needed next year just to keep costs even. Schools are limited in raising money locally because of  a property tax cap. Governors often propose lower amounts to school aid than what ends up in the final budget. Legislators are usually successful in adding funding for education.   

Borges, with the Educational Conference Board,  is hopeful that will happen again.

“The governor’s proposal is a good starting point for negotiations with the legislature,” Borges said.

The governor has proposed adding $100 million dollars to address the most poorly performing schools in the state, which he calls failing schools. He says they should be converted into community schools with longer hours and more services for children and their families.