On Friday, State Sen. Marc Panepinto stood alongside teachers, administrators, school board members and superintendents from Orchard Park, Hamburg, Ken-Ton and Lake Shore school districts in a push for public education. With three weeks left until the April 1 budget deadline, Panepinto spoke on the recent Senate budget resolution, the need for equity in school aid, an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and a return to putting children's future success at the forefront of education policy.
"The taxpayers, families, students and teachers of Western New York schools need immediate relief from the devastating impact of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and an end to the disproportion in state aid funding," Panepinto said. "With municipalities already struggling to stay within the restrictive tax cap, the GEA is not just a social justice issue, it's an economic one, as well. Eliminating it will undoubtedly lower property taxes across the board by injecting revenue into our school budgets that hasn't been there since the start of the recession. It is time Albany stops balancing their budgets on the backs of our children and middle class."
Education officials and teachers also expressed the need to end the GEA and echoed Panepinto's call to put children first as budget negotiations intensify.
James Prezpasniak, superintendent of Lake Shore Central Schools (Evans/Brant), said, "The GEA has drained more than $21 million from our educational programs over the last five years. Over reserve funds are at critical levels and the governor is now holding our student's educational opportunities hostage with his political agenda."
Prezpasniak added, "The New York state constitution outlines the educational standard of a free and appropriate education for all students. It is time to fully fund our children's future, stop the political manipulation, and end the GEA now. Sen. Panepinto, thank you for all you are doing to end the GEA, giving our children the future they are entitled to and deserve."
Matthew P. McGarrity, superintendent of Orchard Park Schools, said, "The release of GEA funds to school districts would begin the process of allowing districts to maintain the quality programs and staff which have been decimated through aid reductions over the past seven years. This decrease in state aid, along with the tax cap and unfunded mandates, has produced a perfect storm, which has weakened the very fiber of public education."
Panepinto announced a development at the end of the press conference, but cautioned there is still more work to be done.
"I have fought relentlessly for our public schools since taking office this past January, and I am pleased to announce that there has been some progress," Panepinto said. "Yesterday, the complete elimination of the GEA was included in the Senate budget resolution. While this is great news for our budget negotiations, there is far too much that has still been ignored. The Senate has yet to address increases in foundation education aid, the unconscionable funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts, or the troubling trend of irrationally targeting teachers as the scapegoats for education while completely avoiding the systemic broader issues at hand.
"So while I am proud of progress made toward ending the devastating GEA, there is clearly still much work to be done. With three weeks left before the deadline, I am ready for the challenge."