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Alliance for Quality Education says state short-changing Massena Central $10.4 million in state aid

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MASSENA - The Massena Central School District would be $10.4 million richer if they received their fair share of Foundation Aid as well as money owed to them through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, according to a report released Thursday by the Alliance for Quality Education.

Their report says Massena would be owed $10,435,665, which includes $10,091,674 in Foundation Aid and $343,991 owed through the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Next highest on the list of county schools is St. Lawrence Central, which should be entitled to $4,620,755, according to the report.

“The information does not come as surprise to me,” Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti said, noting he has “been on a mission with our legislators for a change in the funding formula.”

Gouverneur is owed $3.9 million, while Norwood-Norfolk is owed $2.8 million, Canton is owed $2.1 million, Potsdam is owed $2 million, Edwards Knox is owed $1.4 million, Madrid-Waddington is owed $1.2 million and Lisbon is owed $1 million, according to the report.

Rounding out the list are Hermon-Dekalb ($838,271), Heuvelton ($682,666), Ogdensburg ($288,934), Colton-Pierrepont ($223,257), Parishville-Hopkinton ($175,138), Clifton-Fine ($140,934), Morristown ($72,151) and Hammond ($57,231).

All together, St. Lawrence County schools are owed more than $32 million, according to the report, which was prepared by Alliance for Quality Education Policy Director Marina Marcou-O’Malley.

AQE officials say the state is $5.9 billion behind in funding schools at the level deemed constitutionally necessary under a 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, but they also owe 2.3 times more of that pool of funding to high needs districts.

The CFE was a lawsuit brought by parents against New York, claiming that children were not being provided an opportunity for an adequate education. The New York state Court of Appeals ruled in CFE’s favor in 2006 and found that the state was violating students’s constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by leaving schools without the necessary funding.

The Foundation Aid formula was enacted by the governor and Legislature in 2007 to comply with the CFE ruling. They committed $5.5 billion in Foundation Aid, to be phased in by 2011 and distributed based on student need factors including poverty, English language learn status, number of students with disabilities, and the local level of poverty or wealth, based on income or property values.

But, Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said, the formula and the implementation of Foundation Aid was substantially delayed.

“Today the amount of Foundation Aid owed to schools is $4.9 billion according to the state Education department data,” she said.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment went into effect in 2010 and 2011 when former Gov. David Paterson and current Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cut $2.7 billion from state aid to schools, with a commitment to reinstate it at a later date.

“These cuts were much larger to poor districts than to wealthy ones. To this day $1.1 billion is still owed to districts across the state,” Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said. “Foundation Aid will do more to address rural, urban and suburban high needs districts, but GEA must be reinstated as well.”

She said 69 percent of all New York school districts have less classroom operating aid than they did in 2008, and recommends the state allocate the $5.9 billion owed in Foundation Aid and GEA over the next four years “in order to improve the qualify of public education and comply with every students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education.”

In addition, Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said, “State education funding must do more to prioritize high need school districts in order to ensure all students have access to a high quality education. The foundation formula remains the best vehicle for achieving this goal, but should be adjusted in order to further prioritize the students and school districts with the highest need.

“The past few years have been incredibly difficult for our public schools. Devastating cuts and inadequate state budgets have taken vital programs and services away from our students. These cuts have come in spite of the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision in the state’s highest court, which found that all students have the constitutional right to a sound and basic education and that New York State is not providing the funding necessary to fulfill this obligation,” she said.

In her report, Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said there have been several suggestions on how to properly fund education. For instance, she said, the state Board of Regents, in its state aid proposal, recommended a $1.3 billion school aid increase. The Educational Conference Board published a report identifying the need for $1.5 billion in new education funding, just to prevent cuts and maintain existing programming and services.

“The NYS Association of School Business Officials published their own report identifying $2.6 billion in new school aid as the amount needed to prevent cuts and get back on the road to improvement, in keeping with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity,” she said.

The Alliance for Quality Education said $1.9 billion was needed to stop cuts and start making improvements and, in early January, 83 members of the state Assembly and Senate sent a letter to Mr. Cuomo asking for $1.9 billion in new school aid in order to “overcome the cuts of prior years and prepare our students for the global economy.”

However, Ms. Marcou-O’Malley noted, the $1.1 billion final amount “fell far short of the amount needed to pay for the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) and even further from fulfilling the Court of Appeals ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit (CFE).

“Despite the CFE mandate, since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, schools have had to make painful classroom cuts every single year. These cuts have left schools starved of the resources necessary to provide ‘a sound basic education,’” she said in her report.

Although there was an $805 million increase in school aid in 2012 and $962 billion increase in 2013, she said that was not enough for schools for avoid more cuts. The governor’s 2014 budget included $603 million in new school aid, and the Legislature added $500 million for total increase of $1.1 billion. But, Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said, that still wasn’t enough to stave off cuts.

“For some school districts this translated into still more cuts. For others it meant maintaining the previous year’s level of services, and for a few it allowed for minor restorations of programs and staffing,” she said.

As a result, she said, a survey by the New York state council of School Superintendents found that, from 2011 to 2013, two-thirds of school districts increased class sizes, one-third reduced access to music and art, more than a third reduced summer school and a third reduced foreign language classes and extra help for at-risk students.

“The cuts to school aid that were made in 2010 and 2011 were deep and resulted in major cuts in schools across the board. The inadequate increases in subsequent budgets combined with rising costs, and the property tax cap (which limits the ability of school districts to raise local revenue) forced schools to make further cuts to vital programs and staff. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity has been abandoned by the state. The Foundation Aid formula has not been adequately funded since 2008. Massive cuts made in 2010 and 2011 wiped out any progress made on CFE funding,” Ms. Marcou-O’Malley said.

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