Communities reach out to legislators for school aid help


By Jim Poole

As the debate over state aid for rural schools moves forward, parents and school officials are reaching out to legislators for help.
At the same time, legislators are looking to the public for support in revising Governor Cuomo's proposed budget.
Those allies--the public and legislators--will meet in Duanesburg this Thursday.
Open to the public, the meeting is at 6:30pm at Duanesburg High School. Expected to attend are Senators Jim Seward and Cecilia Tkaczyk and Assemblymen Pete Lopez and Angelo Santabarbara.
The meeting is one of several targeting disapproval of Governor Cuomo's proposed budget and the removal of the state's Gap Elimination Adjustment. The GEA is money the state withheld from school aid; the total withheld now is $1.6 billion.
It's unlikely all of the $1.6 billion will go back to schools, but some of it might, Assemblyman Lopez said last week.
"There's increasing pressure on the Governor, and I think he's starting to back away" from his budget proposal, Assemblyman Lopez said.
Governor Cuomo's budget would increase aid by about $323 million, a far cry from what schools are seeking.
"Getting back $1.6 billion in one year is a tough climb," Senator Seward admitted. "But I think we want to get as close as we can."
Compounding the issue is the Governor's claim that the state has a $2 billion surplus. Both legislators said if that's the case, why not return some of the $2 billion to schools?
"We're not sure that's for real," Assemblyman Lopez said of the surplus. Senator Seward added that the $2 billion "is a projected surplus," meaning it may not be available now.
But taking the Governor at his word--and assuming the surplus may be available--means the public must lobby for that money, Assemblyman Lopez said.
"We've got to keep the pressure on," he said.
Assemblyman Lopez hopes that public pressure may free an additional $500 million for schools, further reducing the GEA.
Senator Seward also questioned the Governor's proposals for universal pre-kindergarten and more money for high-tech schools.
"It seems backward to me," he said. "He's proposing new programs when we can't adequately fund what's in place.
"If we're running a projected surplus, to continue with the GEA just doesn't seem right. We have to be very aggressive with this."
Thursday's meeting is expected to have each legislator give an overview of the budget and school aid. Then, they'll respond to questions from the public.