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State legislators want to remove gap penalty for schools

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The north country’s state legislators differ on how much state aid should be diverted to schools, but are uniform in their agreement that the gap elimination adjustment penalty now assessed against school districts should be removed within four years.

Both Legislature houses on Monday proposed additional education spending over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget, unveiled in January, though the chambers disagree on funding allotments.

Senators have proposed $415 million more state school aid than the governor’s $20.8 billion aid package. The Assembly has put forward $81 million less than the Senate.

Since 2010, school districts across the state have seen their funding reduced through a gap elimination adjustment meant to help solve the state’s financial crisis. This year, the Senate and Assembly have proposed ending the adjustment in four years.

Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, a gap elimination critic, said there will be “a full phase down in the 2016-17 school year” if the Legislature gets its way.

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

Other proposed changes would restructure aid formulas.

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

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

But 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 providing their plans to comply with the state’s new teacher evaluation program. Some state aid for 2012-13 hinged on districts getting their review policies in order in a timely fashion.

Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, said that sends the wrong message by not punishing the offending districts and not rewarding the districts that sent policy proposals in 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, so she could not provide specifics.

Assemblyman Kenneth J. Blankenbush, R-Black River, who voted against the Assembly bill, said more money should be allocated for removing the gap elimination adjustment.

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

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

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