Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Power of Public Outrage

The power of public outrage should not be underestimated.  Although school leaders struggled to be heard in their pleas to the State Education Department about how the Common Core Learning Standards should be introduced in New York’s schools, it wasn’t until the broader public added their voices, and their outrage, that the SED and the Legislature and Governor really began to pay attention. 

Over the years there have been many instances when our requests to legislators for laws that would be helpful to schools were brushed off with the explanation that the public wasn’t calling out for that particular change.  Legislators who cited the lack of a public outcry as a reason not to act do not necessarily seem pleased now that they have a public clamoring for changes with the Common Core. 

With the power of public outcry in mind, school leaders are trying to draw attention to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), hoping to make it a pivotal issue this year.  As the budget discussion began, most of the public and even many legislators did not grasp the impact of the GEA’s automatic reduction to school aid after a district’s aid is calculated. 

The GEA was instituted during the recession to help the state with its revenue problems. Although initially a one-time adjustment to debit money off the bottom line after a district’s state aid was calculated, it was subsequently made a permanent part of the funding formula, a constant negative number in the calculation of aid.

The amount of money subtracted from school aid by the GEA is staggering - $8.5 BILLION statewide over the past four years, over $355 MILLION in MCSBA districts alone!  This loss is crippling schools’ ability to offer the programs students need, an impact on the development of the next generation that cannot be calculated.  But the dollar loss can be calculated and for the coming year, the Governor’s budget proposal includes another $1.3 BILLION GEA cut, including $65 MILLION locally. 

The public is beginning to understand the GEA.  Dissonance is growing louder as people question the conflicting messages from the Governor’s office that the state has a surplus and can rebate tax money to homeowners yet still uses the GEA to siphon money off the bottom line of school aid.  

With all the pressure on districts created by the cap on the levy, the governor’s push for a freeze on increases in local taxes, and the continuing depletion of reserve funds, the insidious impact of the GEA is becoming more obvious.  Many school leaders are showing their communities that despite all the other limits on revenue, if this money was not taken away, they could fund their programs without exceeding the tax cap for years to come. 

The public doesn’t rise up when they are content; they rise up when they are angry.  It is intoxicating to imagine the public demanding adequate funding for education, but they could, and they might, because to understand the GEA is to be appalled by it.

We need to take every opportunity to inform people about the GEA.