Faso and Spitzer Agree: NYC's Share of State Education Funding Should Be Cut

If you have been reading this blog, then you know that education spending in the rest of the state is off the charts, that school districts there have been hiring tens of thousands of new employees even as enrollment falls.  Meanwhile, the City of New York continues to have a level of staffing, and (if the cost of living is adjusted for) spending and pay that is lower than the national average, and far lower than the rest of the state.  (Send me an e-mail at vampire-state@att.net if you require proof of these assertions, and I’ll send you a report).  Because school districts in the rest of the state hire and spend so much, the STAR program -- which diverts education money away from New York City -- was developed to pay for it.  And now that spending, and property taxes, outside the city have increased even more, both Faso and Spitzer want to expand STAR once again.

Each would seek to stick it to New York City in their own way.

For Spitzer, the key is to provide more money to suburban and upstate school districts without any requirement that they not use it to spend even more.  This would enable them to put even more people on entitled their payrolls, and increase their teacher salaries even more relative to New York City, making it more difficult for the city's schools to recruit qualified staff.  New York City taxpayers would pay for a large share of this expansion of patronage, through state income taxes.

For Faso (and Pataki), the plan is to limit increases in school spending for all schools to four percent per year, whether their spending is currently low or high, and reduce their STAR funding if they would not.  This would lock in the difference in spending, staffing and pay between the poorly funded schools in New York City and the richly funded schools in the rest of the state forever, regardless of need or even ability to pay.  And it would use additional state tax dollars collected in New York City to pay for those richly funded schools elsewhere, while imposing a severe penalty on the city even for raising its own taxes to pay for its own schools.

Moreover, neither of these candidates have said a word about the existing level of school spending, staffing and pay in the rest of the state being too high.  And neither has said anything about the needs of New York City's ripped-off children.

Since STAR bases education aid on expenses, not enrollment, it thus recognizes school spending in the rest of the state for what it is:  a huge job program.  In mid-June the New York Times reported that from 1990 to 2004, the number of 25-to-34-year-old residents in the 52 counties north of Rockland and Putnam declined by more than 25 percent.  In Nassau County, the decline is steeper.  That means fewer children and thus savings on school spending, right?  Wrong.  Under either plan the employees of those school districts get to keep their "jobs" with state tax money, just like hospital workers in New York City, even if there are fewer children to teach, the city's children and taxpayers be damned.  In fact, they get to use state tax dollars collected in the city to hire more under Spitzer's plan.  Why do you think Faso proposes to allow a 4 percent increase in spending per year for school districts whose enrollment is going down?

If anyone actually wanted to help taxpayers and provide something like fairness for New York City’s children, STAR would be scrapped instead of expanded.  State education funding would rise, but only per child, not per politically connected employee.  And just to make sure that in over-spending schools the state share of education funding would rise and not the total, one dollar per child of state aid should be taken away for every dollar per child spent in excess of 25 percent above the national average, a figure that would be adjusted for the cost of living downstate.    Spend 25% more than the national average, fine -- we want better than average schools in New York State.  But if you are going to spend more, then pay for it yourself. Also, only those districts proposing to spend more than 25 percent above the national average should be required to have their budgets approved by referendum.  If state funding brought everyone close to the national average, the latter provision would generate funding equity – and lower property taxes – rather quickly.

That limit would apply to New York City too, since it needs more school funding, but not as much more as some have claimed.  Its instructional staffing per 100 students is already higher than the national average, though for some reason its class sizes are large anyway.  Its teachers are underpaid in cash relative to the other schools in the region and (if adjusted for the cost of living) the national average, but they have rich pensions.  More money is needed for higher cash pay for those in tougher schools and those with scarce skills (math, science), and for additional instruction for those who fall behind.  Class sizes have to be brought down, though hiring additional teachers should not be required to accomplish this.  If New York City's share of state school aid (including back door aid such as STAR) were merely to rise to its residents' share of state income and sales taxes, there would be enough money to pay for all of this.  No additional help from the rest of the state -- just less harm -- would be required.

The idea that fairness under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit is unaffordable, as Joe Bruno says, assumes not only that the city’s spending would match the high level in the rest of the state, but also that for every dollar of increase in the city school districts in the rest of the state would spend another dollar more as well.  I’m slightly disappointed, but not surprised, that Faso is copying the worst of Pataki.  But Spitzer?  Don't sacrifice New York City's taxpayers even more to subsidize waste while ignoring the needs of the city's children, Mr. Spitzer.  Don't sacrifice New York City's children even more to subsidize waste, while ignoring the fact that city residents pay higher taxes (including a local income tax) than the rest of the state, Mr. Faso.  If there ever needed to be proof that only the courts could defend the city's children from politicians pandering to privilege, this is it.