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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Thu, Apr 17, 2008

School Aid Beset by Politics

Editorial, Buffalo News

A record increase in school aid in the recently approved state budget is good news for schools and bad news for taxpayers.

The budget includes an increase of $1.8 billion in school aid, bringing total funding assistance to schools in New York State to about $20 billion. Some $1.2 billion is distributed through the foundation formula enacted last year to help take the politics out of school aid and distribute basic classroom operating assistance based upon student need.

Now, the bad news — the politics that was supposed to be removed survived.

More than $100 million was added to the budget at the insistence of the slender State Senate majority to please the Long Island Senate delegation. The so-called Long Island “shares” — a politically predetermined division of aid based upon geography and not student need — are still in play.

By all appearances, many of our upstate senators declined to stand up to the powerful downstate contingent. So downstate suburban districts win again.

Meanwhile, though, the Assembly and new Gov. David A. Paterson stood more strongly for the kids. This budget remains one for the history books because it keeps a promise to deliver the second year of a four-year funding commitment made to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity school-funding lawsuit, which argued that New York State — at least in New York City — was failing its constitutional responsibility to provide quality basic education. The statewide commitment to rectify that was made by former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, and Paterson is holding to it as an investment in the future, despite the state’s fiscal downturn.

Still, as State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli wisely suggested, “Albany should keep an eraser handy,” because even harder economic times might mean the state may have to cut spending later this year — a potentially huge problem for cities and school districts that could see drops in aid in the middle of their fiscal years. Indeed, there are people already sending warning signals that not all of the revenues included in the state budget will materialize, and that the state fiscal picture will worsen.

If that happens, governmental and educational leaders will face a choice between cutting aid and spending or adding revenues. Cuts are the more likely midyear correction.

The Senate didn’t help the problem by insisting on returning to the school aid package a provision the governor had not included, one that allows wealthy areas like Syosset — a district with a poverty rate of less than 1 percent — to continue benefiting from “high-tax aid,” which requires only that residents live in a county where there are people who pay a high proportion of their income in taxes. That kind of politically popular aid to wealthy districts limits the available aid for poor, high-need districts, and is a case of the poor feeding the rich.

Paterson had a lot to consider in the task of overseeing completion of the budget process in a matter of days. The result, in terms of school aid, is a record increase, with two-thirds of the aid distributed in an equitable manner. But that doesn’t give it much more than a passing grade, because politically driven funding crept back into the process.


Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >