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Schools’ gap elimination adjustment targeted for removal by Assembly and Senate budget proposals

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CANTON - North country state legislators differ on how much aid should be diverted to schools, but all agree that the state’s gap elimination adjustment should be removed within three years.

The state Senate and Assembly each on Monday proposed additional education spending over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget proposals, though the chambers disagree on how much schools should get.

Since 2010, state funding for school districts has been reduced through the gap elimination adjustment, in which a portion of money that would otherwise go to aid is reserved by the state to pay down its deficit. This year the Senate and Assembly have proposed ending the adjustment by the 2016-2017 school year.

The Senate has proposed $415 million more school aid than the governor’s $20.8 billion aid package.

The Assembly has put forward $81 million less than the Senate, resulting in an $834 increase over last year’s $20.1 billion aid package.

“Beyond the dollars we are increasing in the budget we have proposed changes in the formula,” Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said.

Mrs. Russell said the Assembly wants to “take out the floor on the income wealth index, which will drive funding toward high-needs districts.”

The index is used to determine the amount of foundation aid a district can receive and has a minimum set by the state.

Mrs. Russell said removing that limit will allow schools “to look as poor as they are” and receive state aid accordingly.

Senators have criticized the Assembly plan because it would return $240 million in school aid to New York City and other school districts that failed to meet the deadline for the state’s new teacher evaluation program. Some state aid for 2012-2013 hinged on districts finalizing review policies in a timely fashion.

Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, said the measure sends the wrong message by not punishing the offending districts and not rewarding the districts who got their policies done on time.

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said the Senate’s plan has “more money targeted to rural schools,” although the actual amount headed for each school district has not been calculated yet, so she could not provide specifics.

The gap elimination adjustment is targeted for a phase-down by both chambers.

Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, said there will be “a full phase down in the 2016-2017 school year,” if the Legislature gets its way.

“What we’re trying to do is get people back on track,” Mrs. Little said.

Assemblyman Kenneth J. Blankenbush, R-Black River, who voted against the Assembly bill, said more money should be put toward getting rid of the gap elimination adjustment.

“I believe that the gap elimination adjustment is more important than the foundation aid,” Mr. Blankenbush said.

The Senate and Assembly will work toward a compromise on the funding in the coming days.

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