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Taxpayers Shouldn’t Write Blank Checks For Education

The Citizens Budget Commission’s testimony before a joint committee of state Senate and Assembly members hasn’t been discussed much statewide.

It should be.

For those concerned with New York’s profligate spending habits, the commission’s recommendations for state aid to schools provides an interesting counterpoint to the traditional yearly narrative emanating from Albany in the winter and early spring months. As politicians and state Education Department officials railed against the governor’s measly increases to education spending, the Citizens Budget Commission testified that the state is providing $750 million more than necessary to provide a sound, basic education to the state’s students.

The commission doesn’t argue that all students are receiving a sound, basic education, nor that all districts have the resources they need. Twenty-five districts lacked the resources necessary to fund a sound, basic education in 2017-18, with 21 of them among the lowest wealth districts in the state.

“Please allow me to be clear,” David Friedfel testified before state Senate committees on Education and Budget and Revenues in December. “This does not mean that all students in districts with adequate funding are getting a proper education, or that the State’s calculation of how much it costs to provide an SBE is perfect. However, the majority of districts receive sufficient resources to fund an SBE. All districts would have the resources needed if state aid were distributed differently than the flawed Foundation Aid formula and other insufficiently need-based formulas dictate. “

Friedfel touches on a disturbing problem in New York state’s educational hierarchy. Everyone from the state Board of Regents down to the superintendent of the state’s smallest school districts will beg and plead each year for more and more money for education, arguing that money is the root of the state’s education issues. That logic makes little sense, though, when one considers New York state spends the most money per pupil than any other state to pay for an educational infrastructure that provides far from the best education in the country.

Two things should be obvious about the status quo — it doesn’t work and it costs too much.

More thought needs to be given to how New York state can live within its means, and there is no better first step to take than realizing that it is likely possible to provide a sound, basic education to New York’s children without expecting taxpayers to write a blank check.

CBC officials are asking the state revamp the Foundation Aid and other state education air formulas to properly account for local wealth and actual local funding capacity; eliminate hold-harmless provisions and guaranteed minimum funding increases and to use the most up-to-date information available when creating the new formulas. That’s a good start, but perhaps the change needs to be even more fundamental. Rather than throwing out requests for huge amounts of money, perhaps the Board of Regents, state Education Department, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators should focus their education budget discussions on a few basic questions. What, exactly, should be considered a sound, basic education? How much should it cost to provide that sound, basic education? What percentage of a sound, basic education should the state be expected to pay? Could a better education be provided to more students with fewer school districts or by creating a new structure that more closely resembles other states?

It should be obvious that New York doesn’t provide the best education in the country, so why does the state cling so hard to the system it uses?

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