Get rid of the GEA now

According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York is looking at a $2 million budget surplus. Cuomo has talked a lot about the surplus and his plans for it.

Unfortunately for him, it’s not his money to spend.

A good portion of those funds were accrued by the state through a program called Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was instituted by the Patterson administration in the 2009-10 school year to help the state fill its revenue shortfall. Essentially, the state allocates a certain amount of aid to schools each year, then takes away a portion of that aid through the GEA. If the amount of state aid allocated to schools exceeds the projected growth in the state’s personal income, regardless of the need projected by schools, the GEA is increased to contain overall growth within legislated limits. If state aid increases are less than that limit or of legislators choose to exceed the state aid cap, the GEA can be decreased. However, the GEA generally remains at the same levels year to year. It’s rarely decreased, meaning schools are losing more and more money every year — money that was promised to them by the state. Now the governor is proposing using that money to fund new programs.

Districts and school lobbyists are asking the New York State Legislature to eliminate the GEA in order to improve their financial situations. As a result of the GEA, schools in Central New York have lost a total of $244.7 million. If the GEA isn’t repealed, districts stand to lose another $47 million this year alone. Without that money, schools have had to eliminate extracurricular and co-curricular activities and lay off staffers.

With school districts under increasing financial stress, as benefit and salary costs go up and their fund balances dwindle, it’s imperative that they find alternative avenues for funding to avoid overwhelming their tax bases. Eliminating the GEA would go a long way towards offsetting the costs schools face. That means they don’t have to raise taxes, cut staff or eliminate programs that help our children to succeed.

Our legislators need to do the right thing and eliminate the GEA. Give that money back to our students, where it belongs.

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