New York state’s 2006-07 budget features a record $1.3 billion increase in support for K-12 public education. State school aid is up 8 percent from the previous year, boosting the total to an all-time high of $17.6 billion.
And yet some still say it isn’t enough. Just last week the statewide Alliance for Quality Education issued a report claiming that New York’s abysmally low graduation rates could be blamed on “inadequate state aid.” AQE cited an Education Conference Board estimate that $2.2 billion in added state and local support would be necessary just to maintain current services and programs for New York schools.
In short, they claim, the latest aid increase is barely half of what schools supposedly need.
Based onsuch statements, a visitor from another planet might assume that New York’s schools have been subsisting on bare-bones budgets and that Albany is desperately playing catch-up.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. By every available measure, New York has been a national leader in education spending throughout the last half-century. As of 2003-04, the state ranked second in per-pupil spending, just behind top-ranked New Jersey and 56 percent above the national average. And consider these trends:
·Per-pupil spending in New York schools nearly tripled between 1983-84 and 2003-04, rising 10 percentage points faster than the national average.
·Despite generous increases in state aid, total school property tax levies in New York quadrupled over the last two decades.
So where did all the money go? Staff, mostly. Roughly two-thirds of the new education spending between 1984 and 2004 went to pay higher salaries and benefits. During a 20-year period when enrollment was relatively flat, schools statewide hired 60,000 more teachers and other professional staff. Their pay alone has added roughly $3.5 billion to school budgets.
AQE claimsthat higher-spending schools produced better graduation rates. Aside from ignoring the link between graduation rates and parental incomes which probably explains most of the difference the group failed to note that all of the worst-performing New York schools spend far more than the national average per pupil.
As of 2003-04, Syracuse spent more per pupil than 96 percent of the nation’s largest school districts including some suburbs known for their quality schools, such as Montgomery County, Md.
Enough is enough. Instead of giving in to public schools’ endless demands for more money, New Yorkers are entitled to demand better results for the very large amounts they already spend.