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Education Reform Rally encourages participation in state aid battle

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MASSENA — The Alliance for Quality Education is seeking a $1.9 billion increase in state aid to schools, and organizers say they could use a statewide effort to convince officials in Albany of the need. Jasmine Gripper, statewide education advocate for the alliance, said Thursday night — one day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State speech — that now is the time for action.

“Now we’re waiting for his budget. We want to influence that budget as much as possible,” Ms. Gripper told audience members who attended a rally organized by the alliance and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell in the Massena High School auditorium.

“Now we need your help. We can’t do this alone,” Ms. Gripper said. “We need parents and organizers.”

“Their Alliance for a Quality Education agenda is absolutely on target. We need to start to galvanize communities around the state,” Mrs. Russell said.

“It is critically important this year, more than any other year, to make significant progress in education funding,” she said.

Ms. Gripper noted that in 2007 a case involving the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was settled and the state was ordered to make up $5.5 billion in aid. “Essentially the students won,” she said.

But it was short-lived, lasting until the commitment was abandoned during the recession, according to the speakers, and more cuts have been made to education funding since then.

In Massena’s case, Ms. Gripper said the district had received $4,204,927 before the payments stopped. The district is still owed $14,064,002.

“Only 30 percent of the promised aid made it to Massena,” she said.

“That (funding) has been completely obliterated. The promise was not kept,” Mrs. Russell said.

After that, Ms. Gripper said, the state began to balance its budget “on the backs of the students” through the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Massena lost $2.6 million, according to Ms. Gripper, and only $1,027,426 was restored.

“They are paying less for education than they did in 2008 even though costs have gone up,” she said, noting districts had been successful in getting more state aid than was contained in the governor’s proposal for the past two years, “but it hasn’t matched up to what it used to be.”

As a result, school districts began cutting. From 2011 to 2014, Ms. Gripper said, 35,000 educators have been lost statewide to cuts, along with programs such as arts and music.

“There were 25 positions cut in Massena alone last year,” Mrs. Russell said.

Mrs. Russell said the governor is aware of the request for an additional $1.9 billion, and advocates hope he will consider it as part of his budget proposal to be released on Jan. 21.

Ms. Gripper said people have to “agitate.” “People need to become angry,” she said.

As part of the effort, Ms. Gripper said, they could sign postcards, go to meetings, recruit friends and go to Albany to speak with their elected representatives.

“It’s important that the north country have a presence at these events,” Mrs. Russell said.

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