Poorer school districts in the state of New York, such as the Syracuse City School District, deserve more state aid and a new formula for allocating state aid, say frustrated parents and some education officials.
“This is Robin Hood in reverse. The wealthier school districts are losing the least,” said Rick Timbs, the executive director for the Statewide School Finance Consortium. The group, based in East Syracuse, advocates for change in how state aid is allocated. It represents more than 400 hundred school districts, according to its website.
The allocation of state education aid works like this: State aid programs determine a minimum amount per student. That amount reflects what it would cost to educate that student. But the actual aid a district receives is that number minus the expected contribution that a district can make. The expected contribution is a minimum tax rate multiplied by a property tax base for that district. But there is also the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, that takes money away from each district’s aid allocation.
For example, in districts such as Manhasset, N.Y., the estimated median income is $108,500; for Syracuse, the median income is $31,459. But Manhasset has a gap elimination adjustment of -0.7, while Syracuse’s is -1.6 this year, said Timbs, of the Statewide School Finance Consortium. It’s not that more affluent districts are getting more aid, but that they are losing less of that aid, said Timbs.
Syracuse cannot compete against districts more affluent districts, advocates for change say. The problem is that education funds are being cut, and the poorest districts are feeling that the most since they cannot balance their budget with taxes. The poorer districts are the ones already suffering and making cuts.
“There are only a few ways to fix deficits in the budget: cutting programs, cutting staff, and using the fund balance. And Syracuse has been doing all three,” said Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium. One other way that the budget could be balanced is by raising property taxes. But no one wants to be the person to suggest that, said Timbs.
At a forum organized in February by advocates for more Syracuse state aid, Patrice Chang, a mother of three, appealed for all children to be treated the same in the school aid process. When students don’t have resources, she said, society suffers.
Margaret Gelfuso has no children in the city schools bu expressed concern over the amount of funding the schools are receiving. “We need to invest in childrens’ education,” said Gelfuso, “because it’s the most important thing.”
(Caroline Strange is a junior with dual majors in broadcast and digital journalism and anthropology with a minor in political science.)