For New York schools, cutting the Gap Elimination Adjustment could be an addition by subtraction.
The adjustment, a deduction taken out of each New York school district’s state aid, was enacted several years ago to help the state government close a budget deficit. While the amount deducted has decreased in recent years and there have been efforts to completely restore the funding, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) has recently sponsored legislation that would completely eliminate the system this year, giving more financial help to public schools struggling to make ends meet.
The bill passed in the Senate and must make its way through the Assembly before heading to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). And as schools across the state wait for the final vote, administrators applauded Flanagan’s efforts in helping them restore their funding.
“Over the past several years our district has been proactive in imploring our elected officials to restore the funds lost under the Gap Elimination Adjustment,” said Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of schools for the Three Village Central School District. “As we enter our latest budget preparations, we are pleased at the news that this effort has taken an important step forward.”
Over in Northport, Superintendent Robert Banzer said restoring aid would “support critical instructional programming and operational budgets that districts rely on to provide a sound environment for our educational community.”
According to Banzer, aid cuts add to pressure on school budgets.
“Marginal tax caps, decreases in revenues and increases in state mandates leave districts with little room to navigate yearly budgets, and the elimination of the GEA would help alleviate the impact of some of these restraints.”
Port Jefferson Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister was not as optimistic that the Gap Elimination Adjustment would be removed.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said during a budget presentation at a school board meeting last week.
Leister is estimating a 6 percent increase in state aid next year, a number he called “conservative,” but if the adjustment is eliminated and Port Jefferson receives more state aid than it allots for in the budget, he said school officials would decide together how to spend it.
Comsewogue’s assistant superintendent for business, Susan Casali, said her school district has lost out on almost $23 million in state aid since the first year of the adjustment. In the next school year, Comsewogue schools could lose out on another $1.3 million if the Gap Elimination Adjustment remains. But that could create a problem for the district, which is currently crafting its 2016-17 budget.
“To maintain our financial position and programs, we need to have the full [deduction] restored,” she said in an email this week.
Flanagan said that eliminating the school funding cuts was the Senate’s top priority in education this session. There are currently about $434 million in GEA cuts still in place for schools in 2016-17 but if the bill becomes law, Flanagan said, his legislation would permanently abolish such education budget reductions.
“The Senate’s top education funding priority this year will be the complete elimination of the GEA,” Flanagan said. “Since 2011, the Senate Republicans have worked to restore $3 billion in funding that was lost to schools because of the GEA and we will not pass any budget that does not fully eliminate it this year. The GEA has been hurting schools and students for way too long and it is past time that we end it once and for all.”
Former Gov. David Paterson (D) imposed the GEA in 2010 despite widespread opposition from Republicans. Since it was approved, Flanagan said he and his Republican colleagues have been leading the charge to abolish the GEA and deliver funding increases to help mitigate its impacts on education. Over the past five years, he said, the GEA cuts have been reduced by roughly 85 percent, to $434 million in the 2015-16 budget.
State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) co-sponsored the legislation alongside Flanagan. In a statement, he said the move was long overdue.
“The elimination of the GEA has been a top priority of mine since it was imposed,” LaValle said. “It has hurt our students and increased costs for taxpayers. The bill we passed completely abolishes the GEA this year and ends its devastating impact on state funding to public schools.”
The legislation has already gained support on the other side of the state Legislature, with Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) saying he was in favor of the GEA elimination and calling on the governor to return all the funds taken from schools since it was imposed.
“It’s simple: The state has an obligation to fully fund our school districts. Some members of the legislature made the shortsighted decision to allow the governor to borrow against the future of our children to close a budget gap created by rampant, uncontrolled spending,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was wrong then and must be resolved once and for all.”
Victoria Espinoza, Elana Glowatz and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.