At a public meeting hosted by EDC Warren County at Crandall Library in Glens Falls, State Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans, answered questions and offered their thoughts on what is included — and what is not included — in Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal, and other matters facing lawmakers this year.
While the discussion covered topics ranging from infrastructure to the SAFE Act, the majority of the conversation focused on education.
The lawmakers both offered a similar opinion on Governor Cuomo’s recent proposal to provide college-level education to prison inmates, saying that it is unfair to leave public schools, particularly in rural areas, with inadequate funding while inmates receive education.
“Times are tough right now, they’re not really that great. We’re just beginning to get back on our feet, even though we have the cap – it’s helped. But we’ve got to use that money for other things.”
Little also was wary of the governor’s proposal to fund universal pre-K, saying while it’s a wonderful idea, there are other funding needs in K-12, as well as a need to reduce student loan debt.
“The pre-K program is really pushed by New York City, as a New York City type of program, and they already get 60 percent of the funding already,” said Little. “And I just don’t think we’ve appropriately funded K-12 to try and reduce property taxes.”
Assemblyman Stec said his biggest concern was that the budget currently does not include language that would close the so-called Gap Elimination Adjustment. In 2009, at the height of the recession, the state deducted each school district’s state aid allocation to help fill revenue shortfalls. Since that time, aid has been partially restored, but not completely.
“We did a significant chunk last year, we’re doing a little bit more this year, but I think the urgency – what we’re talking about – is we need to get more aggressive in wrapping it up now before it becomes an old issue and it won’t be addressed, and our schools will behind where they were four or five years ago,” said Stec.
Senator Little said she was afraid that once school districts in larger communities get their school aid restored, small, rural districts will be kept waiting, and that the cuts to smaller districts are far more damaging than to larger ones.
Douglas Huntley, superintendent of the Queensbury Union Free School District, said his district cannot take any more cuts – any more would have a detrimental impact on class size and instruction. Huntley said since the Gap Elimination Adjustment was introduced, the district has had to lay off 85 teachers and staff members.
“Now multiply that times the 31 component school districts and our local BOCES, you’re talking about a lot of positions that have been eliminated over the past five years because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment,” said Huntley.
Assemblyman Stec said that he’s confident more can be done within the education budget as lawmakers are gearing up to work on their own budget adjustments.
“The governor builds in wiggle-room even in the education budget,” said Stec. “There’s probably room there to scale back a couple of things – maybe Pre-K, maybe the teacher bonuses, there’s things even within the education budget that he can probably shift funds around to allocate to the budget gap.”
The lawmakers also touched on the implementation of the Common Core. Both lawmakers supported the idea to raise standards in education, but also acknowledged the burdens of testing on teachers and students.
The lawmakers said they’d like to see testing delayed further across all age groups, until incoming students are given the instructional background under the new standards before they’re tested.