ALBANY -- Senate Republicans said Tuesday that restoring a type of school aid that was cut during the economic recession will be their "No. 1" school budget priority.
That promise will pit suburban and rural school districts against urban districts for a limited amount of discretionary money in the 2015-16 fiscal year, lawmakers said.
The Republicans are targeting what's known as the "Gap Elimination Adjustment," state government's term for the $2.6 billion reduction in education aid triggered by the 2008 stock market plunge. The cuts, enacted in 2010, hit schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties especially hard because of the Island's slightly greater-than-average wealth as compared with the rest of state.
Since then, about $1.6 billion has been restored, but Republicans want to recover the rest -- $1 billion -- this year.
"Our plan is to get rid of the GEA this year," said Senate Education Committee chairman John Flanagan (R-East Northport), calling the cuts "the albatross that hangs around everybody's neck."
He said many Republicans successfully used the issue of restoring upstate and suburban school funding last fall when the party won back control of the State Senate. And he said they hear about the issue everywhere from "school superintendents, principals and taxpayers."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed hiking state aid to schools by $1.1 billion (4.8 percent) if legislators change teacher evaluation, tenure and probation laws, and just $377 million (1.7 percent) if they don't.
Flanagan said he considers $1.1 billion the "floor," for education aid, meaning rank-and-file legislators want to increase it beyond that. He said he believes the bulk of the overall education spending increase should go to finishing off the GEA.
That puts Senate Republicans on a collision course with the Democrat-led Assembly, which focuses on a different education acronym, CFE, or the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that mandated the state spend more on high-poverty, low-wealth districts. Advocates say the state is still $5 billion behind on CFE obligations.
Democrats said it presents a traditional struggle of urban school districts versus rural/suburban ones.
"Clearly, many of our members are concerned about poorer districts and meeting the obligations of CFE," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit). "We're sympathetic to the GEA issue and we're working on trying to achieve both. The question is: Is there enough resources to meet both obligations?"
The state budget is due April 1.