In New York, NCLB Realities Collide with New Budget Reality
In Washington and Albany, lawmakers loudly insist that no child is to be left behind and mandate tough measures requiring schools to meet higher academic standards. But these mandates have collided with a new reality: Two-thirds of all states face budget gaps in the current year, with worse to come next year, and the federal government refuses to consider helping.
Faced with tough budget choices, governors and legislators are shifting the tax burden to localities rather than raise taxes statewide. The impact will be long-lasting, and the big losers, once again, will be students in poor areas.
American systems for financing education have never provided equal opportunities to all students. The continued reliance on local taxes for a significant portion of school funding creates pockets of educational opportunity in high-wealth areas where schools offer a rich array of programs. This disparate impact is heightened because poor students frequently need more instruction to meet academic standards, not less, but can't get it in inadequately funded schools. As a result, many education advocates have turned to the courts, with some success, to move states toward financing systems that equalize educational opportunity.
In the face of the economic slowdown, Gov. Pataki is doing just the opposite. In the fall, faced with school finance litigation and an upcoming election, the governor acknowledged the fundamental inequity of the status quo and promised to revamp the state's byzantine school finance scheme. His representatives met with the plaintiffs to resolve the matter.
Now, however, under the banner of "no new taxes," the governor has proposed the largest cut to education in state history. New York City's share of this year's $1.2 billion cut is $478 million. This would eliminate 43,000 prekindergarten seats and at least 1,900 teaching positions and lead to significant increases in class size for more than 160,000 children.
Moreover, last year the governor committed $275 million in state aid to cover the second year of the teachers' contract, but this is not in his budget, causing a total shortfall in education aid for the city of $753 million.
Of greater concern, the governor's proposed budget worsens the structural unfairness of the state school-aid system by shifting an even greater burden to localities. While all states except Hawaii rely on local revenues to support education, New York has historically leaned on them to a higher degree than many of its counterparts.
So the cycle worsens. New York's localities have filled the gap by significant reliance on local money, principally property taxes. This heavy burden has created an uneven playing field between those school districts that have wealth and those that do not. The inequality is increased by the state-aid system's failure to take student needs into account. And in his first term, the governor provided property tax relief to wealthy suburban districts that cut their contributions to local school budgets.
New York City will feel the impact of these decisions more acutely than other areas of the state. The city's ability to contribute to its schools depends on the strength of the local economy. Still heavily reliant on the financial sector, the city's tax base has contracted sharply in the current recession, a loss intensified by 9/11.
School aid and academic standards are at odds as never before. The proposals in Albany and other state capitals massively shift costs (and taxes) from the state to localities in ways designed to hit hardest at high-poverty districts. At the same time, the states' responsibility to provide a sound basic education has been dramatized in the courts and enacted into federal and state laws and regulations in the form of higher standards for students.
Federal and state politicians like Pataki have literally passed the buck.
Richard I Beattie
Bad to worse for city schools
New York Daily News
March 30, 2003
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES