Education Funding in the NYS Budget

Cross Posted in the Salamanca Press, March 26, 2014

I find government and politicians to be extremely frustrating. It sometimes seems they spin everything to meet their purposes and rely on the fact that the general public has little understanding of the details of any given proposal. And yes, I realize that many readers are now thinking, “Well yeah, how did it take her this long to figure that out?”

School finance is a great example. The governor, senate and assembly all play politics with their budget proposals for education. Politicians and their comparisons of each other’s budget proposals don’t help us. Foundation aid to our schools hasn’t changed since the school year in which I became a superintendent, 2008-2009. Consider the increases to the costs of everything from fuel to electric to food in the years since then! Our contractual salary increases and benefits have increased, even with the cost savings measures our unions have agreed to in every contract we’ve negotiated during that time.

I understand that we have well intended, caring and dedicated representatives in Albany. How those people ever get anything done within what seems to be a convoluted system is what I don’t understand.

At Randolph, we WERE a district who weathered the storm of funding freezes better than many districts due to our Board of Education’s decades long and fiscally responsible, yet State disapproved, method of maintaining reserves beyond the 4%. That’s changed for us after five years of maintaining budgets with little to no increase in state aid. After all, in Randolph we can raise less than $50,000 with a 1% increase to the tax levy. We are a district with many poor children who need us and the education, programs and meals that we provide to them. In an $18 million budget, we heavily rely on state aid. We have reached the breaking point. This means that my colleagues in other districts who were following the ridiculously low 4% unappropriated reserve rule have got to be believed  when they say they cannot continue as they are or cut anything more.

Simply put, we cannot continue as things are at 2008-09 foundation aid levels. We need a total elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. That’s the only solution that will help our schools. School districts have managed as well as they could but there is nothing left for many to cut as Governor Cuomo touts a state surplus of millions. The gap elimination adjustment was started to help the State eliminate its budget gap—that gap has clearly been eliminated in the State budget now. Programs to school children must be restored.

Our governor continues to publicize “increases” to aid for schools. What he doesn’t make clear is that communities like Randolph will likely never see much of those monies. I cannot move to full day PreK, as much as I know our Randolph children would benefit, without a guarantee of full reimbursement. We cannot afford it. I have neither the time nor the staffing to go after these “grant” based monies that keep being offered by our governor–genius really, as then it’s a promise of money that most of us can’t obtain. There’s also an education tax credit which is absurd for a district like ours, who on earth do they think we have in Randolph who’s going to be able to afford to give us private donations

The state officials who we elect must restore education funding. That should be the goal of every elected official in NYS. We cannot raise the money on the backs of our taxpayers. We will not. Our students deserve a quality education—just as those in the wealthy districts of NYS continue to provide to their students. We need the representatives of our rural WNY region to continue to fight for full restoration of the GEA.


  1. The current education budget proposal in New York State reminds me of a limerick my Dad taught me many years ago.

    “I’ll take a leg from some old table and arm from some old chair.
    I’ll take the body of a sofa and from a horse I’ll get some hair and I’ll put them all together with some paste and some glue.
    And I’ll get more lovin’ out this darned old dummy than I ever got out of you.”

    Education is broken in this country and in large parts its due to a number of factors including politicians who live on the latest bandwagon and pretend that it reflects reality. Our current model of public education is the grandchild of the industrial revolution. We put children and their teachers together in large facilities and kept them marching around to the tune of bells and periods because that reflected the factories that we were preparing them for. A quick look around will tell you that the industrial age ended about thirty years ago in this country. Today’s public schools are essentially an extension of daycare that most working parents need so that they can work two and three jobs which are necessary to provide health care, food and shelter for their families. In an age of text messages (160 characters), Twitter (140 characters) and social media in general we have administrators, teachers and students poring over the Common Core which almost no one has read and fewer yet have any idea on how to implement.
    Many in public education will say you can’t run a school like a business and while they’re correct to a certain extent that argument misses the larger point of motivation and vision. McDonald’s, Apple, Google, and nearly any of the other successful of enterprises in the world would argue otherwise. McDonald’s mission statement is succinct,

    “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.”

    Contrast that with the Common Core mission statement:

    “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

    One statement succinct and easily identified and the other vague, verbose and destined for failure. The Common Core mission statement reminds me of the Dilbert Principle, “Ambiguity succeeds where honesty dares not tread.” Let’s examine what’s flawed about the logic or illogic that guides today’s funding and reform of public education.

    “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.” Noble phrase that provides no vision. Proverbs wisely states that where there is no vision the people perish. Look around most of New York State and the nation and you’ll see people and their communities perishing. The real world has been outsourced. College and careers does not reflect reality. Talk to almost any recent college graduate and you’ll find that they are swimming in unsustainable debt that effectively prohibits them from investing in startup businesses, a new home or even marriage. Do we really want to willingly guide our children into $100,000 to $300,000 dollars of debt at age 22?
    I love college and I’m highly educated I have an A.S. in Liberal Arts, B.S. in Liberal Studies, a Master of Arts and a Master of Science in Education. College is a great socializing experience and one that I’ve truly enjoyed. On the other hand I’m also an autodidact and that experience has left me fully prepared to be successful in the global economy. However, most of that education occurred outside a traditional classroom and very little of it was measured by standardized testing in the traditional manner we might think of that. I’m a self-employed entrepreneur who enjoys teaching, learning and tinkering. We need more entrepreneurs, people who add value to their communities by providing services and/or employing a few or many in providing such services.
    Now, how can we best serve today’s learners, taxpayers and provide a policy direction that even the most timid could follow. First and foremost accept that the method of funding today’s public education is fundamentally flawed due to our rapidly changing world. Public education including charter schools need a new paradigm. Initially charters were supposed to provide such models however they have become “cherry picked” enterprises serving elite populations that do not generalize easily to the whole. They’ve also become home to neo-privatization which is victimized by a carpetbagger mentality that siphons needed public funding into private businesses.
    Provide funding to innovative programs that actually prepare today’s students for the world as it exists. Realize that age of careers as such has passed and prepare today’s students to be lifelong learners. Provide these students with a realistic vision of competition in a global marketplace and teach them skills that will actually move them in the direction of employment. Offer subsidies to enterprises that actually invest in local communities. Redefine the mission of BOCES as an honors program (rather than a dumping ground) that prepares students for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Ensure that all students can really read, write, publish and create. Imbue these students with social and emotional learning skills that help them to empower each other and the communities around them. Provide financial incentives for teachers and administrators to live in the communities they work in. Provide changes in the education law that enable private and public sector leaders to teach in public settings. Remove standardized testing from all education and replace it with community projects that foster learning and community building.
    Reform the education law so that school districts need only one administrator per district. Middle managers are a thing of the past they’ve been neatly excised from all other industries. This alone will save most school districts $500,000 per district in salaries and benefits. Teachers can and do lead and merely need empowerment.
    Provide financial incentives for school graduates who remain positively active in the community up to ten years after they graduate from high school. Encourage all school districts to use sustainable energy sources and offer financial incentives to use non-fossil fuel energy sources. Pay school board members a stipend and require that they continue their education while serving on the board.
    We have a society in general longing for leadership and vision which empowers such a model. We live in an area rich in natural resources including water and power from sun, wind and rain. This model creates sustainable communities which empower today’s students and their offspring. Continuing our present model complete with under-funding and misdirection ensures confusion bordering on chaos and despair.

  2. The governor and state lawmakers may have good intentions but they are either close minded or willfully ignorant of what life in rural Western New York is really like. They assume that the rural poor have choices that simply do not exist and their wanton neglect of adequate funding alternatives for schools in Western New York demonstrates an unparalleled myopia when it comes to providing truly innovative and conservative approaches that will grow local and regional economies. Lack of adequate funding for public education guarantees sustained low employment of area residents and increased the likelihood that area youth become part of a permanent underclass with few options. In addition to that the likelihood that these young people will eventually find themselves trapped in low paying jobs, incarcerated or clients of a burgeoning social welfare system is highly likely. All of these outcomes actually cost more taxpayer dollars and have long term negative effects on the economy.

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