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District NEWS

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January 27 2014

Post Star Editorial

Prekindergarten funding plan flunks to improve education in state

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes to pay for prekindergarten programs statewide, his budget continues to drain millions of dollars out of school districts through a mechanism called the gap elimination adjustment.
The gap elimination adjustment started in 2010 under then-Gov. David Paterson as a method
of balancing the state budget on the backs of its school districts. A certain amount of state aid, determined by one of the impenetrably complex formulas that get drawn up for such purposes, was withheld from each district.
As usual, this scheme was more difficult to handle for districts such as Glens Falls, Hudson Falls and many North Country districts than it was for property-rich districts in places like Long Island, which are less dependent on state aid.

The subtractions over the past four years have been substantial. Last year, Glens Falls lost about $2.5 million because of the gap elimination adjustment. In the coming year (2014-15), it will lose about $2.4 million out of a total of about $17.4 million in state aid.

In 2010, the state was struggling with a budget deficit. Now, as Cuomo has been proclaiming, the state has a surplus.

So, what gap are we trying to eliminate?

Cuomo could do more for local school districts by ending the gap elimination adjustment than through expansion of pre-K programs or any other educational initiative.

Glens Falls School District is receiving about $138,000 from the state for a pre-K program. The district offers two classes of 18 kids each and funds a third class through Head Start. Sometimes, three classes is enough; sometimes, the district has to hold a drawing to determine who gets in.

If the state takes a greater interest in pre-K, Glens Falls may be able to guarantee a spot for every family wanting one, which would be great. But the difference in the overall quality of local public education will be minimal, since Glens Falls already has a pre-K program with enough spots for most of the eligible kids.
State funding for pre-K does nothing to help the district with the money crunch that, over the past few years, has led to teacher and staff layoffs and cuts in programs.

Restoring that $2.4 million in state aid, however, would put the school’s budget on secure footing. Remember, this is not an increase in aid, just a reclaiming of money to which school districts are entitled.
We like pre-K programs, although we question the practicality of putting pre-K in place statewide when kindergarten is not even mandatory.

We can imagine an awkward configuration arising in certain cash-strapped regions, with state-funded pre-K programs operating but kindergarten eliminated to save money.

The governor is handing out carrots to districts whose lunch the state has been stealing for four years.
Pre-K may be valuable, but it is irrelevant in the context of enormous cuts in state aid. Cuomo wants to tinker with the state’s educational offerings, but what is needed is an infusion of the cash that is the system’s lifeblood.

Think of what the governor is doing like this: You make a $50,000 salary and your boss decides to give you a $50 bonus to play around with. At the same time, he cuts your salary by $7,000.

It’s not surprising New York’s public schools have been struggling; the wonder is, many of them have managed to maintain excellent programs and offer a high-quality education. Squeezed by the tax cap on one side and the gap elimination adjustment on the other, our schools cannot continue for much longer without cutting programs and lowering the quality of education. That hurts students, and it hurts the state.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to stop something hurtful. The best thing Cuomo can do for public education in New York is to stop taking money from schools to pay for everything else. Cuomo’s pre-K initiative is mostly for show. If he wants to improve local schools in a substantive way, he’ll stop the gap elimination adjustment.