Op Ed Education

No, New York Shouldn't Add Billions in New Education Funding

What the state really needs to do is focus aid on districts that need it

March 11, 2019

Read the original op ed here.

As sure as the clocks spring forward for daylight savings time, every year Albany is home to the vigorous debate about how much state education aid should increase and where the money should go. In recent years, Gov. Cuomo has proposed substantial increases and the Board of Regents, teachers unions, and advocates demand increases that are even larger. The adopted budget invariably falls somewhere in between.

So far, this year is no different: The governor has proposed an increase of nearly $1 billion while others advocate for $2 billion or more. Is that much really necessary?

If the goal is to provide resources needed to fulfill New York State’s constitutionally conferred right to a sound basic education (SBE), the answer is no. The amount needed to provide an SBE, as calculated using the state’s own formula, is much lower. However, the critical action is to target the distribution of aid to districts that need it, rather than ensure that almost every district gets more no matter its circumstance.

The state education aid formulas estimate that providing a sound basic education statewide requires $62.6 billion in spending. In 2020, the Citizens Budget Commission estimates that school districts’ revenues from federal, state and local sources are on pace to reach $72 billion, even if state aid did not increase one cent. While this is $9.4 billion more than is necessary in the aggregate, 32 districts would have a total of $164 million less than is needed to provide an SBE.

Directing a state aid increase of just $164 million to these 32 districts would provide resources to provide an SBE statewide — and do so without any decreases in state aid for wealthy districts.

After reviewing the history of education funding growth, it is almost surprising that there is a gap at all. Between school years 2006-2007 and 2016-2017, total district funds increased $20 billion, or 41% — twice the rate of inflation. State aid increased 30%, while local revenues increased 54%. For most of the state, this growth was split evenly between increases from the state and local revenues. Outside New York City, state aid increased 29% and local revenues increased 30%. New York City was an outlier, with state aid increasing 33% and local revenues increasing 99%, and the overall increase in funding in part due to student population growth, including the rollout of universal Pre-K.

Why do these 32 districts — mostly low-wealth districts with high-needs students and/or growing enrollment — still have too few resources to provide an SBE in light of recent increases? Because the state has not sufficiently focused its aid in prior years. As of 2018-2019, the 10% wealthiest districts — including Scarsdale and Syosset — received $465 million in state aid, despite already having the resources needed to provide an SBE.

Some advocates claim that state aid is $4 billion less than is needed. This figure is based on a school aid formula that does not take into account actual local funding. Instead, the formula calculates a hypothetical local funding amount and then assumes that the state should make up that calculated gap. However, the vast majority of school districts provide local funding that exceeds these assumed levels. The calculated gap simply isn’t there in many cases.