The State Senate on School Aid: Two Deceptions and a Truth
In its ongoing effort to preserve an unjust state education finance system, the State Senate must rely on deception, because under no set of consistent principles would New York City receive even the level of state education funding Governor Spitzer has proposed, let alone what it has received in the past. If the State Senate accepts that places whose children have greater needs deserve a higher share of state school aid, New York deserves more. But if argues that better off places deserve more money based on the share of state taxes they pay in, New York City also deserves more. If it argues that those with high taxes deserve more aid, New York City, among the highest-taxed parts of the state, still deserves more. And if it continues to hold that whoever spends the most deserves more state aid, through back-door aid like STAR, then it is hardly adhering to purported Republican principles. In any event, Governor Spitzer hasn’t proposed giving NYC more money as a share of the total; the State Senate is demanding that it receive less money. So to justify the unjustifiable, the State Senate endlessly repeats two deceptions, but last week let slip a truth.
The first deception concerns local taxes. The State Senate continues propose policies that drive back door school aid to other parts of the state based on their high property taxes, while completely ignoring New York City’s local income tax and unincorporated business tax. The Spitzer administration has accommodated this by doing the same. Thus, both the Governor and State Senate pretend the New York State’s local income tax is not really a tax. The debate in Albany comes down to this: the Governor believes the state should force New York City residents to pay higher local taxes as a share of their income than residents of the rest of the state pay, while having less school funding (but more than before). And the State Senate believes city residents should have even worse schools and higher taxes than the Governor is prepared to impose.
The second deception is to talk about Long Island’s share of state school aid that is called school aid, while pretending that the STAR program is something else. In reality, while regular school aid goes to school districts that spend it, STAR goes to school districts as reimbursement for money they have spent. There is no real difference. So Long Island hasn’t traditionally gotten 13% of the school aid with 17% of the students, as the State Senate claims. Nor is New York City in line to get 46% of the school aid under the Governor’s proposal, as he claims. In reality, as the Governor elsewhere makes clear, New York City will be getting 37% of total school financing under his proposal, same as last year and less than its residents’ share of state taxes. And in the 2004-2005 school year, Long Island had 16.8% of the students and received 14.1% of total state school aid. (See attached spreadsheet, with summary data -- the data for all school districts was attached to a prior post). There is no way that total, including STAR, is going down to 8%, as the State Senate claims. In fact, according to a tabulation of state education funding by district in the New York Times, Long Island would be getting the same 14.1% of state school aid under Spitzer’s proposal that it did in 2004-2005. See that data here http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/nyregion/20070225_SCHOOLS_GRAPHIC/thetable.html . To find it, you look in the regional sections the Times produces for areas outside New York City, but not the City section.
In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity the courts found that the rest of New York State had cheated New York City’s children by billions of dollars per year for years. In the wake of this, Governor Spitzer has proposed to keep the City’s share of total state education funding unchanged. And the State Senate is holding up the budget by demanding, in the wake of the CFE lawsuit, that New York City’s share of total education funding be cut. Spitzer’s proposal is a big change on form, but not on substance, except perhaps within the different regions of the state. That isn’t our problem. I wonder how Republican members of the State Senate from New York City stay in office.
While otherwise pretending STAR is not school aid, according to the Capitol Confidential blog the State Senate has let out a truth. “Spitzer wants to provide $1.4 billion to the state STAR program designed to subsidize local school taxes,” this source reports, but “Senate Republicans, however, argue that because schools face no cap in spending, much of the STAR money could be used to mask increased spending by schools.” They are absolutely right. STAR money is spent just like any other school aid, and the STAR program has enabled public school spending in the rest of the state, already high, to soar further. This assertion by the State Senate contradicts their other assertions on school aid, which exclude STAR.
By the way, the State Senate says a 3% increase in school aid, which every district will get, will lead to higher property taxes, despite the additional property tax aid (which doesn’t seem to count), because districts in the rest of the state will increase spending by 6%. Again -- they spend more so they deserve more state money, and New York City had to settle for less because other places spend so much.
As the spreadsheet shows, if the State Senate wants to argue that more of Long Island’s money should come back, its argument should be with Upstate New York, not New York City. But that doesn’t fit its narrative. So it says New York City should have its share of state school aid that is called state school aid kept low, while its share of STAR aid is lower -- because that is the way it has been, and changing it pits one part of the state against another. What do State Senators think has happened in the past? It has been every part of the state against New York City, as a spreadsheet of state school aid over time, also attached, shows.
It is clear that Governor Spitzer has not gone far enough. The STAR program should be simply rolled into one state school aid formula, perhaps by adding to the foundation grant that all students receive. That would provide a true picture of who is getting what, without the administrative complication of having money come in, paid out, and shifted around under the carpet. No fair-minded person, of any ideological perspective, is in favor of STAR. It is an exemplar of bad government. By keeping two forms of state school aid, one of which New York City gets and the other one it doesn’t, Governor Spitzer is simply keeping it possible for the city’s children to be ripped off again, by having STAR increase with inflation but freezing school aid that is called school aid.
And there should be a soft cap on total spending per student, with school districts forced to give up state aid money if they insist on spending vastly more than everyone else. At the very least, high spending districts should be required to have their budgets approved by referendum, but other districts should not. Of course this maximum would be higher Downstate where the cost of living is higher, as I have proposed.
Finally, if Governor Spitzer wants to give a tax break to homeowners but not renters, based on their property taxes but not their local income taxes, a check should be mailed directly to them, not to the school districts. These checks are a bad idea, but the State Senate is right about what will happen if the districts get the money.
Post new comment