Compromise needed on NY state school funding

Solely eliminating the GEA is not the answer to the grotesquely inadequate funding of the Schenectad

The Daily Gazette’s Jan. 10 editorial supporting the elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) and the article about the increasing poverty level of the Schenectady City School District, when taken together, tells the story as to why solely eliminating the GEA is not the answer to the grotesquely inadequate funding of the Schenectady City School District.

There are two relevant funding formulas called Foundation Aid and Gap Elimination Adjustment. These complicated formulas are separate and distinct in how they fund/defund districts and which districts they help/hurt the most.

The school districts within the 110th Assembly District are of average or below average wealth, with Schenectady being the poorest . The Foundation Aid formula prioritizes the poorest and neediest districts; while GEA restoration disproportionately benefits higher wealth districts. This is because the formulas were created for different reasons.

The Foundation Aid formula was created as a result of a lawsuit to bring financially deprived districts up to an adequate funding level which the Courts determined was necessary to implement the guarantee of a public education found in the New York state Constitution.

The GEA was created to close the budget gap that occurred as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. School districts were assessed to close that gap, with the wealthier districts contributing more than the poorer ones, so that when GEA is restored, the predominant beneficiaries are the wealthy districts.

For example: If the GEA were eliminated this year, the Schenectady City School District would receive an additional $23,954 (an amount far less than what could be, and has been in the past, covered by discretionary funding for the district). Conversely, if Foundation Aid was fully funded the district would receive close to $60 million. Personally, I’ll take door No. 2.

The interesting thing is that not only Schenectady but all the districts of the 110th do better under Foundation Aid. None of the school districts in the 110th are considered wealthy under state wide standards, which include some very wealthy suburban communities outside New York City. It is not in our best interest to eliminate the GEA without funding Foundation Aid.

The Schenectady City School District would benefit the most by concentrating on funding Foundation Aid. But my Senate Majority colleagues, whose districts are generally much wealthier, are currently saying they will not come to the negotiating table unless the GEA is eliminated. My fear is this ultimatum, if real, will direct any additional funding solely into the GEA and that the poorer districts of this state will lose, including Schenectady.

I am in full agreement with Superintendent Laurence Spring that this lack of funding for districts in poverty disproportionately affects minority students. I support his claim of disparate impact against the state. But again, solely eliminating the GEA will be more beneficial to wealthier school districts, where there are less minority students.

With the district growing poorer, the need for more funds going towards Foundation Aid is even more urgent and paramount.

In conclusion, so that we can achieve true equal opportunity in education, I support splitting any additional funding that the Assembly adds to the governor’s budget proposal 50/50 between the two formulas.

Although my No. 1 priority in this office is working to achieve full funding for all the districts in the 110th Assembly district, compromise is essential in getting things done.

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