They may very well have had a point.
Last Friday, local teachers and parents stood outside the Glens Falls and Plattsburgh offices of New York State Sen. Elizabeth “Betty” Little to protest a pair of key issues when it comes to education funding within the state.
The first issue is easy enough: Why would anyone in the North Country care about funding for charter schools? Those who have come out in support of passing funding to the publicly paid for, but independently run, academies that, according to the state Department of Education, “create and sustain excellent educational options for New York State families on behalf of the Board of Regents through high quality charter school authorizing, fair and transparent oversight of all charter schools, and the dissemination of innovative school designs and practices.”
Sounds great, but the closest charter school for North Country students is located in Troy or Albany, a one-plus hour drive for our southern-most readers and almost three hours for those by the Canadian border.
So there are no charter schools in the district that Little represents, which makes it very easy to understand why teachers and parents are upset with Little voting in favor of bills that would shift funding away from public schools and toward charter institutions. Sen. Little, you represent a district that has no charter schools and therefore should be mindful of the needs of your constituents.
Little has been a champion for business rights within the Adirondack Park. She has brought millions in grant funding to towns in desperate need of infrastructure repairs and was on the front lines of Tropical Storm Irene relief. All these things she was praised for, but many families watching their taxes go up and their quality of education go down as teachers lose their jobs are losing their patience when they hear about the glory of charter schools they have no chance of sending their children to.
This leads to another issue, one Little has said recently she is trying to help eliminate: the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
Under Former Gov. David Paterson, the GEA was used to balance a state budget that was out of control according to Albany lawmakers. It continued under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who swore the budget would get better.
Guess what, it has, as Cuomo touts a budget surplus that will be realized in the next two years. Congratulations! The GEA worked and now we can go back to business as usual.
Ehh, not so fast.
Both Cuomo and the legislature are dragging their feet on this one, wanting to keep the money that should be going to local public schools away or moving it into charter schools.
What does this mean for local schools? Elizabethtown-Lewis Superintendent Scott Osborne said his school has cut all that they can without affecting the quality of education provided to students and the fund balance will shortly dry up. He almost drops to his knees whenever he talks about the desperate need to restore the GEA.
Minerva Central School has already started to look at consolidation of high school services with Johnsburg because of the strain put on them by a state budget that gives them less money yet asks them not to raise more than the two percent tax cap.
In Glens Falls, the district is looking to fill a gap that is over $3 million while knowing money that is supposed to come to them is being held captive by lawmakers, including herself.
We all know people in the North Country feel, at times, their voice is not heard in Albany. Little has been someone who has helped overcome that stigma, and local families are asking for that help again. That is why they are protesting at her offices, because they feel she can affect change for them.
So, to all of our local officials at the state level, keep in mind the needs of local students and schools this budget season, help to eliminate the GEA and keep money coming to our school children and not urban charter schools.