Governor Cuomo is withholding 20 percent of state school aid allocations pending federal bailout negotiations. The decision has been met with alarm and objection from district leaders and New York teachers unions. Yet notably absent from pleas to maintain funding is any context for New York’s education spending.

Spending level comparisons cast doubt over warnings of looming calamity. Most significantly, if New York was a country in 2016—the most recent year for global education spending data—it would have boasted the highest per-pupil expenditure in the world, even after subtracting 20 percent of state aid.

Global comparison is instructive for context, as some might argue that domestic comparison lacks merit due to a national failure to properly invest in education. Indeed, “education reform” principled upon the notions that more money produces better outcomes and that education spending has declined in recent decades has become a rallying cry for progressive activists and their allies in the labor movement.

New York provides a counterpoint to linking expenditures to student achievement: Despite its highest-in-the-nation spending, the most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) —popularly known as the nation’s report card—indicate that New York students fare no better or worse than the (unspectacular) national average in 4th or 8th grade reading or 8th grade math, but significantly lower than the national average in 4th grade math.

New York also belies the notion of underfunding. Data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveal that if New York was a country in 2016, it would have spent more per pupil than any other. Luxembourg, the world’s leader on per-pupil K-12 spending and the world’s wealthiest country, would have fallen below New York’s spending by $2,000 per pupil. If New York schools had lost 20 percent of state aid that year, New York would have nevertheless surpassed all countries in per-pupil spending.

Meanwhile, New York would have expended 85 percent more than the G7 average of $11,100 per pupil and twice as much as Finland, a long-time union darling and reform model due to intensive teacher preparation and a comparatively modest focus on standardized testing.

Sources: https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/econ/school-finances/secondary-education-finance.html & https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_cmd.pdf

Notably, the comparisons in the table above appreciably understate New York’s education spending relative to the rest of the globe. NCES data include capital outlays (e.g., construction or equipment) when estimating per-pupil expenditures by country. U.S. census data, however, do not include capital outlays when estimating per-pupil expenditures by state. In 2016, K-12 capital outlays in New York totaled $4.66 billion, or roughly $1,800 per student.

Stateside comparisons are no less gloomy. In the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent year with census data on education expenditures, New York spent $24,040 per K-12 pupil, almost doubling the national average of $12,612 and topping the next-closest state, Connecticut, by $3,405. That year, 39.6 percent of K-12 revenue in New York came from the state. If districts lost 20 percent of that revenue stream, per-pupil expenditures would fall to $22,136. In such a scenario, New York would still outspend Connecticut by 7.3 percent.

Source: https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/econ/school-finances/secondary-education-finance.html

None of this is to say that districts can or will easily navigate a 20 percent reduction in state appropriations to schools. Sudden revenue drops challenge any organization. However, amidst a dire fiscal outlook facing New York, decision makers can look home and abroad for solutions to do substantially more with less.

About the Author

Ian Kingsbury

Dr. Ian Kingsbury is the Empire Center's fellow for education policy. Before joining the Empire Center, he was a postdoctoral fellow at The Johns Hopkins University.

Read more by Ian Kingsbury

You may also like

Sluggish Reopening: NY’s Private Job Count Down 1.1 Million From Pre-Pandemic Level

Six months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, New York State's private-sector employment recovery was the slowest in the 48 contiguous states—and getting slower. Read More

What a New Jersey “Millionaire Tax” Really Means for New York

Hoping to jumpstart a bandwagon effect, advocates of soak-the-rich tax hike proposals in New York State are hyping a tax increase in New Jersey as evidence that New York needs to do the same. Read More

On Measuring School Quality, Education Week Misses the Mark

Education Week’s rankings do not measure what counts. New York’s substandard achievement coupled with highest-in-the-nation spending and above-average wealth means that when it comes to school quality, New York fails to pass the mark. Read More

State Forces School Districts To Give Raises—And Layoffs

Months of bad decisions and inaction by New York state officials have put school districts in the awkward position of having to give pay raises to most teachers while laying off others. Read More

The CDC’s Nursing Home Death Count Is Even Less Complete Than New York’s

The result is that a major public health disaster affecting New York's nursing home residents is not being accurately documented by either of the agencies responsible for protecting them – because state officials are refusing to share the true numbers, and federal officials haven't yet asked for them. Read More

The Health Department Stalls a FOIL Request for the Full COVID Death Toll in Nursing Homes

The state Health Department is offering a new explanation for why it won’t provide the full death toll of coronavirus in nursing homes: it can’t find the records. Read More

The DOJ’s Probe of Coronavirus in Nursing Homes Appears to Leave Out Most Victims

The U.S. Justice Department's newly announced inquiry into coronavirus in New York's nursing homes comes with a crucial caveat: It will look only at government-operated facilities, which represent a small fraction of the state's nursing-home industry. Read More

Filling in the Blanks of New York’s Coronavirus Pandemic

Because New York was hit with the coronavirus early, before testing was widely available, its official count of infections – at just over 400,000 – vastly understates the scale of its outbreak. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.