Will the Lone Ranger (NY Senate) Save School Funding?

I keep waiting for the Lone Ranger to ride in and save the day for local schools. I am not sure he is coming this year. Over the years we have had many gubernatorial agendas that seemed to make sense for a governor’s political future, but little sense for New Yorkers.

This year it is a promise to keep taxes flat, institute statewide pre-kindergarten and fill schools with an abundance of new technology. What’s not to like? The problem is the governor makes almost no progress in restoring the billions of dollars taken away from schools in what is called Gap Elimination Adjustment. The result is once again some local school districts will be forced to raise property taxes while they cut teachers, increase class size and reduce programs. Gap Elimination Adjustment is the withholding of formula based state funding of local schools in order to close the budget gaps caused by the crippling recession of 2008. It is much harder on low-wealth school districts that are more dependent on state aid.

Guess what? There is no budget gap. The recession is technically over, except perhaps for low-wealth school districts and the taxpayers who support them. The governor’s budget will force cash-strapped school districts to further reduce a local program that barely provides a sound basic education to its students. In some cases, districts are on the verge of going out of business, at the same time they are asked to add pre-K and more technology, both of which will create their own legacy costs.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for pre-K and more technology, but only after the basic education requirements are met. This idea of overlaying these programs on districts that are barely above water is akin to dressing a starving child in a bright new outfit. The child might look better, but is still starving. In the end, the so-called tax freeze from the governor will inevitably lead to increased local property taxes as we try to keep schools afloat.

A group of low-wealth, mostly rural school districts, has made an offer to the governor. Eliminate the GAP reductions (as there is no gap), provide all the aid required by law and these districts will guarantee a zero school tax increase. Now that’s a win-win, but it might not be seen as such by a governor who seems to struggle to see any solution that varies from his own agenda as acceptable.

Oh, the Lone Ranger: In my experience that has always been the state Senate. Even when there was a Republican governor doing what seemed to be politically expedient, but educationally damaging, we could count on the upstate Senate delegation to insist on common sense. Where is that masked man? We could really use him right about now.

This essay first appeared in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger on March 25, 2014.