Marching for still more school dollars

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

ducneYesterday brought a march on Albany by something called the “Educate NY Now campaign,” in which the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) figures prominently.  The demonstration served to bring attention to AQE’slatest statistical hobby horse — an “opportunity gap” created by the $8,601 difference in per-pupil spending among the wealthiest and poorest schooldistricts in New York. Their solution: more money. Of course.

A nice corrective for the demonstrators’ rhetoric is provided today in this Postop-ed commentary by Carrie Remis, executive director of the Rochester-basedParent Power Project, and Allen Williams, president of the New York Center for Educational Justice. Their money grafs:

AQE’s thesis is the same one that every special-interest-backed education group has espoused for decades: The main problem with education in New York is that we aren’t spending enough of the taxpayers’ money.

Never mind that total school-district spending is up 127 percent since the 1995-96 school year, while enrollment is down nearly 4 percent. This, in a period when New York personal incomes grew only 95 percent, while inflation has increased by slightly more than 50 percent.

Since 1995-96, education spending in New York has grown at a rate 2.5 times greater than the rate of inflation. With total spending levels now about $58 billion a year, New Yorkers have maintained the highest per-pupil spending in the nation, 75 percent above the national average.

On average, US states spent $10,615 per pupil in the 2009-10 school year. According to AQE, the 100 poorest districts in New York spend, on average, $19,106 per student.

That’s right: New York’s poorest districts spend more per pupil than any other state in the country. New Jersey, which ranked second in spending per-pupil, allotted $16,841 per student in the 2009-10 school year, about $2,300 less than New York’s poorest districts are spending.

Similar points have been made in this space.

Whether New York’s gold-plated suburban schools really provide all that much educational value-added is debatable, by the way: in other states, such as Massachusetts and Maryland, similarly affluent districts produce comparable results at lower spending levels. But there’s no question that New York’s wealthiest school districts also generate a disproportionate share of the income tax revenue that Albany redistributes, Robin Hood-style, to poorer districts.

As usual, the rhetoric of AQE demonstrators and supporters yesterday was brimming with unconscious irony. For example, the lead quote in AQE’s news release was attributed to Angelica Rivers, identified as a mother of toddlers about to enter the Buffalo city school districts:

“This proposed [state] budget is just not enough! It’s not enough to prevent cuts, and these cuts will hurt my sons. My sons love football, and in Buffalo, they want to cut down the football program to just four teams for the whole district. That means tons of children won’t be able to participate. These are kids whose only reason for not being on the street is football.”

In fact, as of 2009-10, U.S. Census data indicate Buffalo’s spending of $17,277 per pupil ranked in the 91st percentile of schools nationwide — i.e., more than nine out of every 10 school districts across the country spent less. That same year, nearly 75 percent of the Buffalo school district’s total revenue came from the state government. According to census data, Buffalo received $13,743 per pupil in state formula aid, while formula aid for affluent Scarsdale came to just $788 per pupil.

The ultimate inequity in education is this: if you have a higher income, you have more choices of where and how your children are educated., while if you are poor, you’re much more likely to be stuck with what you’ve got. Since 1999, at least, the choices for poor parents in New York cities have been expanded to include charter schools, many of which are producing better results than traditional public schools serving similar populations.  However, AQE is not enthused about charters. Considering the organization’s funding sources, that’s not much of a surprise.



- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.