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Salmon River school board adds its voice to chorus opposing inmate ed plan

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FORT COVINGTON - The Salmon River school board this week joined the ranks of those opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to provide a college education to state inmates.

Board member Matthew Mainville proposed that the board write a letter to the governor stating “when he gets the foundation aid and the gap elimination straightened out first, then worry about those people. Let’s take care of the kids first. “The school system in New York state is going bankrupt. Worry about these kids before you worry about convicts,” he said.

In the 2009-10 school year, a law known as the Deficit Reduction Assessment - renamed the Gap Elimination Adjustment in 2010-11- began to cut into schools’ state aid allocaions. The GEA helped reduce the state’s deficit at the expense of school districts, according to the New York State School Boards Association.

Since the GEA went into effect, Salmon River has lost about $5.4 million in previously received state aid, and roughly 40 positions have been cut to offset it, according to Superintendent Jane Collins.

The board formalized the idea of sending a letter to the governor with a motion - all were in favor, with no abstentions.

Salmon River school officials join a number of opponents of Gov. Cuomo’s plan across the state. Republican congressman Chris Collins from the Buffalo area introduced legislation Tuesday to prohibit the use of federal money to provide college courses for convicted criminals. The bill, known as the “Kids Before Cons” Act, comes about a week after Gov. Cuomo proposed a program to offer associate and bachelor’s degree education at 10 state prisons.

The bill also came after Troy-area state Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin first introduced an online petition against the program with the same title - a petition that now has more than 4,000 signatures. Mr. Collins called the Cuomo plan “an insult to law-abiding citizens.” He is among a number of Republicans publicly criticizing the proposal.

“It is simply not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to pay for college for convicted criminals when they struggle to put their own children through college,” said federal bill co-sponsor Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY, of Corning. Gov. Cuomo says the program will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime, saving taxpayers in the long run by reducing the prison population. The state would spend up to $5,000 per year to help a prisoner get a college degree, but it costs $60,000 a year to house a prisoner.

The Kids Before Cons Act does not ban states from using federal dollars to support GED or work training programs in prisons and correctional facilities.

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