School Spending Per Student by Category and School District: Please Enlighten Me
As promised, I have attached a spreadsheet with FY 2005 per-child spending by category (instructional wages and salaries, operation and maintenance of plant, etc.) for every school district in the state. In high-cost downstate New York, the figures have been adjusted downward to account for higher wages and costs here – those which received adjustments are identified by an asterisk. The spreadsheet also includes the original data downloaded from the U.S. Census Bureau that I used for the per-capita figures; the census data includes even more detailed categories I chose not to break out. The data, aside from the big city school districts, is sorted by county (in alphabetical order from Albany to Wyoming) followed by school district name. Although my knowledge of the rest of the state is probably greater than the average Brooklyn resident, I have elected to provide the data without comment. While I’m not sure how many people from outside the city read this blog, if you do please look up the data for your school district and let me know what you think of it. Why are things the way they are? Unfortunately, this data came out after the school budget votes this year. But that means this will be the most recent data available when the budgets come up again next year.
There are two ways to get ripped off. You can have a low cost for something that is essentially worthless. That’s what New York City’s children, aside from those in gifted and other “special deal” programs, experienced for most of the past 30 years. Those who benefited from such an arrangement got away with it for a long time before the dam broke and there was some accountability, with perhaps more to come. Most of the administrators at the top of the old Board of Education were replaced, the community school boards were done away with, and administrative spending was cut by 57% from already-low (by national standards) levels.
But you can also get something that does work well, but be grossly overcharged. That, in my view, is the case for education in most of the rest of the state. Thus far, the response has been to reduce resources to New York City, and/or increase taxes on New York City, rather than impose any accountability elsewhere. And remember, the figures I presented in the two prior posts were averages. There are efficient and effective school districts in other parts of the state, with spending per pupil (adjusted for the cost of living) perhaps somewhat higher than the national average, which many New Yorkers are willing to pay for better quality, but not ridiculously so. The rest, therefore, are even more costly than the averages imply.
When talking about New York City’s children, opponents of higher funding here have often stated that the amount of education funding makes no difference in the quality of education. If that were the case, the logical response would be to cut education funding to zero, and demand that the school system (which would no longer exist) do as good a job of educating children as highly funded school districts elsewhere. It turns out that those who state that the amount of education funding makes no difference really mean that it makes no differences for children other than their own. For themselves, and those like themselves, different rules apply.
What is fair to say, however, is that the level of school funding is not the only factor that affects the quality of education, and it is thus subject to the law of diminishing marginal returns. If the other factors, such as level of educational support provided by the parents and the efficiency with which resources are used, are unchanged, and education funding increases by (say) 20%, the result isn’t a 20% increase in educational quality. If spending is so low the basics are not provided, perhaps there will be a 15% improvement. For a typical school district, perhaps a 20% increase in spending will provide a 10% improvement in educational quality. And perhaps the next additional 20% in spending will only provide an additional 1% gain in educational quality. Eventually, the benefit of increased spending falls close to zero, as the added money goes to waste and frills (or, perhaps, a more lucrative public assistance program than that available to the much-resented uneducated welfare recipients of New York City).
What was particularly unjust about New York City school finance in the 1990s, as the city’s enrollment grew but the state shifted funds elsewhere, is that our political system chose to protect and increase those 1% educational gains for the districts spending the most, while imposing near dollar for dollar losses in New York City where the basics were not provided. Were affluent parents paying for their own children’s frills elsewhere, with New York City’s children also riding on their backs to a lesser extent? No; the state redistributed money AWAY from New York City every year data is available, and continues to do so to a greater and greater extent.
As spending levels rise across the state – so, sooner or later, will the state taxes required to pay for the increase. All that changes is that the city’s children become less ripped off, the city’s taxpayers more ripped off. Indeed, according to a tabulation of state education assistance under the adopted budget for this year, provided to me for review by Daily News reporter, the city’s share of state education funding barely budged. That was the case under Governor Spitzer’s original proposal as well. Since the total is greater, the money New York City residents will pay in state taxes, in excess of the amount New York City will receive back in education funding (and back-door “tax relief” funding), will be at a minimum $1.2 billion. That loss is the net effect of the state school aid system on New York City, and it seems it can only get worse. Many of the districts that are net beneficiaries of state funding are poorer, or have a more disadvantaged student population, than New York City. A handful even spend less. But by definition, there are districts out there that are no poorer or perhaps richer, with less disadvantaged students, that are spending more at New York City’s expense.
And while the state is demanding all kinds of accountability, with a presumption of guilt, for New York City in exchange for whatever funding it is getting back, no one dares to even question the extent of spending and the value for the dollar elsewhere. Did I miss the speech where the Governor, Joe Bruno or Dean Skelos said school districts would be held accountable for the efficient use of all the extra STAR and “high tax” aid NYC residents have paid for over the years?
The rest of the state, it seems, needs more and more “tax relief” aid to pay for the school spending in the attached spreadsheet. Why don’t you write in and tell me if I’m getting my money’s worth, and why when next fiscal problems crop up New York City’s schools should be forced to “cut waste” while the rest of the state is “held harmless” once again.
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