Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guv's Budget IV

As promised, here's the Op-Ed I submitted:

A Tale of Two Districts

Angie attends ninth grade in District A. Ben attends ninth grade in District B. Both districts educate 1,800 students in New York State.

Last year, Angie’s district had a budget of $49 million. About 4 percent of that came from state aid. Ben’s district had a budget of $33 million, 50 percent from state aid.

Angie has taken Spanish since elementary school. In sixth grade, she added French. This year, she might take Latin, or American Sign Language, or start preparing for AP courses in Spanish and French. Ben started taking Spanish in sixth grade. This year, he will take… Spanish. French was last offered in Ben’s district over a decade ago.

Angie loves science, so she’s pleased that her school has AP courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Science, as well as electives in Forensic Science and Marine Biology plus a rigorous student research program. Ben loves science, too, but the AP biology course at his school will only be offered contingent on funding, and there are no other AP science courses.

Because Angie’s school depends less on state aid, cuts in the governor’s 2011–12 budget affect her far less than they do Ben, even though the percent cut to her district is greater. Angie’s district will lose 10.89 percent of its aid, for a total of $205,940. Ben’s district will lose 6.59 percent of its aid—for a total of $1,113,612.

The governor’s proposed tax cap will affect the two teens differently, as well. Ben’s district may only raise its levy by $292,184 before hitting the cap. That equates to a maximum spending increase of about $162 per student. Angie’s district may raise its levy by $495,363, for a maximum spending increase of around $274 per student (more than enough to make up the difference in lost state aid).

When Angie and Ben were in elementary school, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a lawsuit that promised fairness in school funding. Then came the recession, and foundation aid was frozen. Since that time, the gap between Angie’s and Ben’s educational opportunities has continued to grow.

In 1778, Thomas Jefferson imagined a public education “without regard to wealth, birth, or other accidental condition or circumstance”—a student body “educated at the common expense of all.” Although he wasn’t imaginative enough to extend this opportunity to women or people of color, his vision of a justly educated citizenry is at the core of America’s educational philosophy.

That’s philosophy, not reality. Ben’s “accidental condition” is that he lives in upstate New York. Under present circumstances, that hogties his ability to compete with Angie for a place in higher education and the global economy.

New York State cannot afford to fund its schools. Ben’s community cannot afford to make up the difference—even if there were no tax cap, and they were allowed to do so. In these worst of times, don’t be fooled into believing that the budget cuts are “across the board.” Under the current proposal, the rich stay rich, and upstate kids lose again.

The author is the parent of a ninth grader in District B.
Some data were obtained from the Statewide School Finance Consortium.

1 comment:

Diane said...

This is an amazing piece. It clarifies the school aid dilemma in a personal and comprehensible way. Please submit it to the Times!