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Bill To Withhold School Aid May Spur Debate Across State

State Sen. Pete Harkham introduced an interesting bill recently that would withhold state aid to school districts that have race-based nicknames and mascots.

The bill would give districts three years to change their nickname or mascot before aid is withheld, and aid would continue to be withheld until the name is changed.

Nicknames that offend are certainly a serious matter. Harkham is also probably on the right track — one way to force change is to hit recalcitrant school districts in the wallet. His logic is sound. We’re willing to bet passing Harkham’s bill would spur a lot of action. In our view, high property taxes and schools that struggle to provide quality coursework because of finances and declining student enrollments are a serious matter as well.

Why not extend Harkham’s logic into a policy that would affect districts throughout the state.

School districts statewide are loathe to merge even when it makes sense for districts both financially and educationally. Yet state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are similarly loathe to force consolidations and mergers. So, perhaps an enterprising legislator like Harkham could draft a bill threatening to withhold state aid to school districts to school districts identified by the state as candidates for a merger.

At a time when COVID-19 is making less money available to give to schools, it makes more sense than ever before to find ways to decrease education spending. One of the only ways to do that is to have fewer school districts.

For years the state has tried to incentivize school mergers with additional state aid. The carrot approach hasn’t worked. Harkham’s idea of withholding aid just might. Perhaps a stick is needed to drive real change.

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