State Shortchanges Education At The Taxpayers’ Expense
On the education front (read as school funding), the landscape looks pretty much the same as it did last year, and the year before that.
The paucity of State aid to education, and the widening disparity between what upstate school districts reap from Albany and that which trickles down to Long Island, having not so much to do with who sits in the Governor’s mansion (Nelson Rockefeller having dealt from the same hand some forty years ago) as it does the State Legislature doing little to bring an arcane and archaic aid formula into the 21st century.
The NYS Education Law, and the State Aid formulae that have evolved over the past five decades – valiant attempts during the mid-70s at reform notwithstanding – have left New York with a system and practice of school financing which is as incomprehensible as it is unfair.
To the dismay of parents and students, teachers and taxpayers, the static nature of how we pay for elementary and secondary education in New York, and the stagnant persistence of the Legislature to either maintain the status quo or, worse still, to patch a crumbling infrastructure with a silly putty under the euphemism of STAR, have created an endemic of high property taxes and mediocre performance.
As the battle lines are drawn, here on Long Island and up in Albany, no doubt the scene will play out much as it did last year, and the year before that.
Cuts will be proposed. Politicians will place blame. Money will be restored. Politicians will take credit. Upstate will see a bounty. Long Island appreciably less. And that rebate check will be in the mail.
It’s a vicious cycle, really, with few among the elected having either the fortitude to offer practical cures, or the stomach to tolerate the strong medicine it takes to promote academic excellence while preserving New York’s tax base.
As Tim Bolger (not related to Ray) proffers in his Long Island Press piece, some see “Upstate getting more money while the Island gets a Commission on Property Tax Relief to study the issue.”
We see a method of school financing that is obsolete and incapable of serving the needs of New York’s children, and an ongoing political partisanship that, yet again, favors posturing and finger-pointing over the desires of those who foot that ever-escalating bill.
Parents and students, teachers and taxpayers, deserve much better.
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From The Long Island Press:
Rallying For The 3Rs
By Tim Bolger
The public's heightened political attentiveness this presidential election year aside, cumbersome and non-reader-friendly budget proposals are not usually instigators for protests. But this is Long Island, and its taxpayers are particularly sensitive about fluctuations in the amount of money the state says it will send to schools.
Sure, the case can be made that the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC) is an organization that traditionally relies on tactics such as picketing to attract attention to issues that don't make ordinary citizens take to the streets. But it's not just the Massapequa-based advocacy group's Feb. 14 demonstration that has called attention to Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2007 promise to increase aid to school districts. A Long Island delegation of New York State senators is planning a protest along with community leaders at Ellsworth Allen Park in Farmingdale, at noon on March 1.
For his part, Spitzer says the promise he made last year of four consecutive annual school aid increases has been undermined by an economic downturn and a projected $384 million drop in tax revenue this year. So, while there is more than $2 billion in school aid, some LI schools are on course to get what equates as a smaller increase from last year while some will be dealt a decrease.
"The continued worsening outlook for the economy demands additional tough choices," Spitzer said in a statement. "We are taking the steps necessary to ensure the fiscal integrity of our state government." Meanwhile, the Long Island Tea Party goes on, reacting to the governor's proposal amendments.
Although complex, both demonstrations illustrate the sharp line between the two approaches to this issue (leaving alone the plethora of tangential problems critics highlight when discussing LI school funds). At the Valentine's Day rally outside Sen. Caesar Trunzo's (R-Brentwood) Hauppauge office, LIPC and about 30 protesters gave the senator "Don't break our hearts, keep your promise" valentines. Their goal, based on a Feb. 14 report from the statewide Alliance for Quality Education, is to not only get the Senate majority to return the funding to levels promised, but to do so without disproportionate cuts to the school districts that need it most-including Central Islip, Brentwood and William Floyd, all of which Trunzo represents.
"We want to make sure restoring these funds to high-needs and underserved school districts is a priority, and the only way we're going to do that is to say it loud enough," says Maurice Mitchell, lead organizer for LIPC. He says that since Spitzer announced budget amendments earlier this month, LIPC is focusing on those in the Legislature who are negotiating the budget's details before it goes to a vote.
In a statement, Trunzo condemns Spitzer: "I have great concerns about the governor's budget proposal, which spends too much, taxes too much and once again shows the governor's indifference to the needs of Long Island residents." That is likely a preview of the rhetoric the public will hear live on March 1.
On a flyer for the upcoming Saturday protest against the governor's plan, the message doesn't focus as much on nuance as it does on the overall threat of tax increases that result from decreased state funding to schools. Messages saying "School aid cuts mean higher taxes and less for education" and "Long Islanders want their fair share of education aid" adorn the posters. The event is billed as the Education and Taxpayer Rally, organized by the regional office of the Senate majority.
"All we're looking for is our fair share," says Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Selden), calling the proposal "an attempt by the administration to redistribute money that was originally intended for Long Island." He notes that while the economic downturn has wreaked financial havoc, a 7.5 percent increase in education spending statewide was proposed-yet despite the fact that the region has 16 percent of the state's students, only 8 percent of that increase comes to the region. LaValle says he finds this difficult to justify and reiterates that if the budget is passed as is, the result would be "either cut programs or raise property taxes or both."
The budget protests likely won't turn violent or result in looting. But many LI leaders see this budget in terms of Upstate getting more money while the Island gets a Commission on Property Tax Relief to study the issue. With the budget due on April 1, looks like this March will be a stormy one.