New York gets an A for effort in school spending, but earns a D when it comes to sharing equally with poor schools. Those are the findings of the report “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” released by the Education Law Center in New Jersey.
The report, in its second edition, ranks the financing of public schools by state governments based on “four fairness” indicators:
•Funding distribution (compared to other states)
•Funding rank among states
•Coverage or proportion of students in public schools that receive aid
“New York’s relatively high average spending of $17,385 per pupil … places it third among all states. On fairness, however, the state receives a ‘D’ grade because average funding levels in high poverty districts are lower than average spending levels in low poverty districts. This ‘Regressive’ funding structure, in which poor districts spend only 82 cents for every dollar spent in wealthier districts, severely disadvantages low-income students,” the report authors said.
Big spending on education statewide hides what the report calls a “fundamental flaw” in how New York funds public schools.
Wealthy suburban districts use local property taxes to keep spending high, while poor urban and rural districts “struggle with levels of state aid that are inadequate to offset their low property wealth.”
Unequal funding, particularly for small city school districts like Utica, is the complaint of a lawsuit called Hussein v. the State of New York, which has been brought by 13 small city school districts, including Utica.
“It’s exactly what we’re saying, Robert Biggerstaff, the lead attorney on the Hussein case, said.
“When you average everything out, maybe the total level is high, but that doesn’t mean that the poorest school districts in the state are getting the resources they need.”
He said the study could be used in the lawsuit to bolster his case.
Unequal funding, particularly with state aid dollars, has long been the complaint of Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.
“I really don’t have a problem with the amount of money they’re spending,” he said. “It’s always the distribution. It’s just not going to the place it’s needed.”
Advocates for more equitable funding to low-income schools point to the foundation aid formula — a complex calculation that doles out the $20 billion the state spends on education each year — as the problem.
Timbs said the formula isn’t being fed the amount of money that it was created to use.
“If it was fully funded, it would probably be close to enough, but the problem is it’s not fully funded,” he said. “(And) if it was fully funded, it would be funded flawed.”