Balancing Mandates And State Aid

State aid to schools will increase when the state budget is passed over the weekend.

No one knows yet quite how much local districts can expect to receive, but the total statewide is about $1 billion. The additional money is sure to make life a little easier for school administrators as they put the finishing touches on the upcoming year’s school budgets, but we caution state officials not to make school officials’ lives too easy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent tax cap was designed to force tough decisions about local government spending. Schools have responded by tightening their belts.

Cassadaga Valley is only the most recent school to close a building to save money. Last year, Jamestown closed Rogers Elementary School while Cattaraugus-Little Valley officials decided to close the Little Valley Elementary School building. Fredonia has closed Wheelock Elementary School. Ripley and Chautauqua Lake officials have a tuitioning agreement. Several schools are reaching out with neighbors to share sports teams. Many worthy programs have been cut in recent years as districts try to live within the 2 percent tax cap. A study recommending the merger of the Westfield and Brocton school districts has been endorsed by the state Education Departments, though that process is still in the very early stages.

That list is a sign the tax cap is achieving its intended purpose.

At the same time, the state is also asking schools to do more and should help pay for it. The advent of the Common Core standards in New York is changing the way schools teach and increasing the administrative duties on school districts. Teacher evaluations are another added layer of expense on districts. The state still has to have its discussion about a longer school day, which will mean more pay for teachers and added cost for school districts. Schools are being required to do more by the state, and the state should bear some of that cost in the form of increased state aid.

We also know from years of experience that simply throwing more money at public education won’t magically make New York’s education system better. State legislators must remember as they finalize the state budget.