Monday, May 22, 2006

Study: More Aid From Albany Needed

Alliance For Quality Education Says School Financing Formulae In Need Of Overhaul

Not like we really needed another study, but ---

A report issued by the Alliance For Quality Education finds fault with the manner in which Albany decides who gets what in State Aid, and criticizes the heavy reliance on property taxes to fund New York's schools. [Click HERE to read the full report, New York State's Dual Crises: Low Graduation Rates and Rising School Taxes.]

Yes, yet ANOTHER study, survey, or report to tell us what we already know -- and what we experience, with great distress, in our wallets -- but the Alliance's study highlights what we've been saying since day one: RELIEF CAN ONLY COME TO BOTH SCHOOL DISTRICT AND TAXPAYER FROM ALBANY!

The AQE report highlights two "essential" findings:

􀀹 Districts that spend more per pupil have higher achievement, as measured by graduation rates.

􀀹 Higher state aid increases result in lower property tax increases.

Well, how do you like that? This took, what, all of three seconds to figure out?

On the property tax front, the study cites a recent report by the State Comptroller:

A recent study by New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi found that the property tax - - a combination of taxes levied by school districts to operate schools (sometimes referred to in this report as “school taxes”) and taxes levied by cities, towns, and villages to fund municipal services – is “by far the largest tax imposed by local governments in New York State, representing 79 percent of all local taxes outside of New York City.”

The Hevesi Property Tax Study found that the greatest growth in local property tax levies has occurred since 2000, when property taxes increased 42 percent, more than three times the inflation rate for that period (13%).

School taxes are the largest portion of property taxes paid by homeowners (61% outside of New York City), and have “generally been increasing more rapidly than municipal property taxes (counties, cities, towns and villages)….

As with total property taxes, school taxes vary around the State, with some of the highest full value tax rates in high-need districts, where property values tend to be low, but some of the highest total bills in wealthier areas, where property values are much higher.”

The study's conclusion, while short on practical, real-world solutions, is well worth republishing here:

This report adds to the overwhelming evidence that increased school spending will improve educational outcomes for New York State’s two million school children. And this report also concludes that a significant increase in state-funded education spending would result in property tax relief for overburdened taxpayers.

The 2006-07 state budget did not provide even close to enough funding to address the graduation crisis. By providing a greater than usual increase in state school aid, the budget did moderate proposed local property tax increases around the state. However, it did nothing to reform the fundamental over-reliance on local property taxes in funding schools.

Addressing these problems simultaneously is the number one school funding challenge faced by state policymakers. This can only be accomplished through a dramatic and fundamental reform of the state's school funding formula.

Such reform must provide for the state assuming a much larger proportional share of the school funding pie. It must also include a leveling of the playing field by targeting additional resources to significantly increase the graduation rates of lower income, English Language Learners and disabled students around the state.

Finally, any reform plan must apply the principles established in CFE II statewide.

A variety of alternatives to school funding reform have been proposed around the state. These include capping local school budgets and providing additional state funded property tax rebates. However, neither a cap on property taxes nor a property tax rebate takes into account the need to increase graduation rates or other desirable educational outcomes.

It takes no great leap of faith to conclude that capping school spending will not improve graduation rates when there is overwhelming evidence connecting increased spending per pupil with improved educational outcomes. In fact, capping school district spending is likely to adversely affect student achievement.

Moreover, there is no evidence that property tax rebate checks will actually provide for a long term slowing in the growth of property taxes. Such rebate plans, layered on top of the existing flawed school funding system, are likely to prove inadequate at stopping the growth in property taxes and do nothing at all to address the graduation crisis.

A more hopeful approach lies in retooling the school funding system entirely. The shifting of a larger share of school funding away from local property taxes and into the state budget would produce fundamental changes in the growth of property taxes, as supported by the findings in this report.

Such reform, coupled with a commitment by the State to provide a large infusion of additional school funding resources to school districts with the greatest unmet educational needs, will have significant positive impacts in bringing property taxes under control and improving graduation rates and other educational outcomes.

How can the state pay for the additional state funding that is needed?

A range of options have been proposed by various entities, including setting aside state budget surpluses for education, income tax surcharges on the highest income earners, creation of more tax brackets for higher income earners, savings through Medicaid fraud enforcement, and creating efficiencies of scale in school districts statewide.

However, this report is not focused on funding mechanisms. Rather, we have documented that both the graduation and property tax crises stem from the same source: the State's failure to pay a large enough share of the school funding pie and the failure to have a school funding formula designed to meet student need. It is incumbent upon lawmakers to weigh the full range of available options for how to provide the revenues necessary to end both the graduation and property tax crises...

The findings of this study aside, there are still certain factions in Albany that have, in effect, told the taxpayer that Albany has done all it can do with respect to school financing and property tax relief. The rest, they tell us, is up to the local school boards.

This, of course, is the ultimate cop out. But hey, maybe the Legislature will conduct it's own study, issuing it's own report, perhaps to be entitled, "There Is No Property Tax Crises: Why The School Financing Mess Is All In The Taxpayers' Heads."

Meanwhile, we await the findings of two critical studies, due out shortly:

Town of Hempstead Sanitary Districts: A Source of Joy For Which We'd Gladly Pay More, issued by TOH Councilman, Anthony Santino; and

We'll Be There To Pick Up Your Leftover Bread In The Morning, by Counsel for TOH Sanitary District 1, Nat Swergold.

Until then, remember, "fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you. . ."

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