In his opening remarks for the 2016 legislative session, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan pledged that he would not approve a budget that did not include the full elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment this year – a promise that’s guaranteed to be a point of contention during budget negotiations.
“I made it very clear that GEA has to go away this year,” Flanagan, the former Senate Education Committee chairman, told reporters after the governor’s State of the State and budget address, adding it was his only “line in the sand” this year. Elimination of the GEA will cost $434 million.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his speech called for eliminating the GEA over the next two years, raising school funding by $2.1 billion in that time period and including $266 million more in foundation aid. The state adopted the Foundation Aid Formula to bring adequate funding to schools with high levels of poverty.
But lawmakers in both the state Senate and Assembly expressed dissatisfaction with Cuomo’s proposals and will seek greater funding increases for schools in the budget.
“Certainly, I would be supporting (an increase) and pushing for as large an increase as possible, because we’ve now had quite a number of years since the CFE decision,” Assembly Education Chairwoman Catherine Nolan said, referencing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York. The state Supreme Court determined that the state had violated the state constitution by providing inadequate financial support to New York City public schools, and in 2005 ordered the state to increase funding. “We understood there was an economic downturn, but now it’s time to step up and try to really close that equity gap that exists in our state.”
State Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellinotold City & State that his conference will focus on budget negotiations with the governor.
“The governor has put some things in the budget we feel are unfair. Does he really want them? Or are they there simply for negotiations and is he willing to give them up if he can get something else?” Marcellino said. “It’s all money-based, basically. We need to put in appropriate funding for educational priorities.”
Nolan said the Assembly Democratic conference will discuss whether to eliminate the GEA over two years as the governor proposed or to act more quickly.
Meanwhile, many members of the Assembly said they support the state Board of Regent’scall for a $2.4 billion increase in school aid, which would be a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
Nolan and Marcellino also had a lukewarm reaction to Cuomo’s proposal to turn the state’s struggling schools into community schools and said it is something that will need further discussion.
Apart from the school funding debate, the Assembly will push for more oversight of the Smart Schools Bond Act, which voters approved in a statewide referendum in 2014, and a bill to reform school discipline programs in the state. Passage ofthe discipline reform bill was a major goal of former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who died in early January.
The state Legislature last year approved only a one-year extension of mayoral control of New York City’s public schools, a major defeat for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had called for a permanent extension. Cuomo this year proposed a three-year extension. Nolan said she supports a seven-year extension, the same given to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Like last year, de Blasio’s fight over mayoral control will ultimately be with the Republican-controlled state Senate.
“I have supported extensions in the past and I do believe ultimately it will be extended. At this point, for how long is yet to be determined,” Marcellino said in a statement after speaking to City & State. “I also think we have an opportunity to increase accountability and transparency on where school funds are being spent in the City. We need a clearer picture on where these funds are going and how they are being used."
However, another contentious education battle is expected to die down this year. After several years of highly controversial debate, the Common Core standards and related teacher evaluation system will be put on the backburner in the state Legislature. Facing massive criticism from parents and teachers, Cuomo created the Common Core Task Force, which released a report that recommended a four-year moratorium on the use of Common Core test scores in teacher evaluations and a reboot of the standards. The state Board of Regents adopted the changes recommended by the task force.
“We may yet have something in the budget to fix what we did last year,” Nolan said. “It’s very frustrating that we can’t seem to get it right, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”