With those familiar buses back on the roads morning and afternoon, you would never know how empty our schools are in New York state.

As reported by the Empire Center last week, “The number of students enrolled in New York state public schools is the lowest recorded in 30 years.”

Since 2000, enrollment in public schools has declined by more than 10 percent statewide with most of it upstate as enrollment in New York City schools has increased 1.3 percent in the last 10 years. Students are not leaving to go to private or parochial schools either because they, too, are showing declines, down about 8 percent in the last decade.

The decline outside the city should come as no surprise because it mirrors another familiar statistic, the decline in overall state population leading to fewer seats in the House of Representatives and the often acknowledged stagnant nature of the economy upstate.

While all of these figures are well known in Albany, in fact they all come from the state government, there is an important difference when they are collected and compared by the Empire Center, which is critical of many decisions on state spending.

If we are educating a much smaller school population, the center asks, why are we continuing to spend so much more overall and per pupil? And why do legislators not do something about it? They must be hearing complaints about high taxes if they are listening at all and know very well and do not need to be reminded by their constituents that the bulk of this high tax bill goes to schools and would have been even worse had it not been for the nominal 2-percent tax cap imposed by the Legislature years ago.

There are two reasons. The first is that the powerful New York teachers unions are perhaps the most influential lobby in Albany. Nobody dares resist their call for more spending on education.

The second is that legislators are reluctant, to put it mildly, to face the reality of just what New York gets for its educational dollar.

Start with a statistic that is a persistent reminder about how much the state spends. Per pupil spending in New York is not only higher than most other states, it is and has been for years close to double the national average.

That alone is not the key figure. Most people don’t mind paying a lot if you get a lot in return. But New York does not and to start this school year we have a fresh reminder.

Education Week annually compiles measures of school achievement and then ranks the states. New York this year comes in 21st and by itself that is a clear indicator that all that money does not buy quality or success.

But the more damning finding comes by examining the achievement of other states that spend large amounts but nowhere near New York’s per pupil figure. New Jersey is now on top of the list, displacing the perennial leader, Massachusetts. Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and Vermont all have higher achievement while spending more than most but not nearly as much as New York.

© 2019 Times Herald-Record

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