Funding for Public Schools DETAILS
Funding for Public Schools
Equal Access Doesn’t Mean Equal Outcomes
- New York State ranks Number 2 in the nation in educational inequality (The Education Trust, 2015).
- The gap in spending between the 100 wealthiest districts and the 100 poorest in New York State is $9796 per student. The current educational system relies disproportionally on property taxes rather than on state income taxes, guaranteeing major inequalities in education.
- The reason for this deplorable situation is the 1982 court case Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v Nyquist, which stated “very real disparities” in local education funding “…do not establish that there has been a violation of either Federal or State Constitution.”
- The New York State Constitution Education Amendment, written 122 years ago and not updated since, does not guarantee fair or equitable funding per student when taking into account Federal, local and state money combined, nor does it put the burden on the state to provide additional services when student outcomes are deficient.
- In fact, State funding peaked in 2001-2 at 48.2% of education funding per student:
- For the 2015-16 school year, state aid made up only 41.9% of school revenues, so state funding is still way behind where it was at the beginning of this century – and even that was still way too low.
- The entire approach to “high stakes” K-12 testing is wrong and has been wrong for decades. High-stakes testing has mainly been used to evaluate teachers and schools and to enable politicians to claim credit for meaningless statistical “improvements” in student performance. Nothing has been done for testing to tell the teacher what help the student actually needs now.
There needs to be an in-depth debate about education in the state so we can replace the vague, antiquated language of the existing constitution with the best education amendment in the country. Although there is much to discuss, the principals of the solution are clear:
- The property tax as the major funding source for education has to be substantially lowered, and the State must provide at least 60% of the funding for education. This would move education funding from the state’s outrageously high property taxes to the fairer graduated income tax.
- The state has to assume the burden of funding school districts with smaller property tax bases like Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester that already get more than 60% of their education spending from the state to create at a minimum a real equality of funding from all sources (federal, state, local) per student, rather than ignoring outrageous inequalities across the state and blindly hoping for the best.
- The constitution must not only address inequities in education funding, but perhaps more importantly, place a burden on the state when education outcomes are deficient. The state is ultimately responsible for student outcomes.
- All statewide, formerly “high stakes” tests must be for the benefit of teachers and students and be diagnostic and prescriptive. The State’s long-term goal is that every statewide test should provide teachers with specific prescriptive suggestions to help each of their students overcome their deficiencies.
- “The model for using property taxes to finance schools, police, fire, and other services is no longer sustainable.” –Stephanie Miner, (D) Mayor of Syracuse.
- New York’s Constitution requires the establishment of public schools, but does not commit the state to any educational standard.
- “…the Court of Appeals held in 1982 [Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v Nyquist] that the then-current statutory provisions for allocation of state aid to school districts violated neither the “free common schools” provision of Article XI, Section 1, nor the equal protection clauses of either the state or federal Constitutions, even though they resulted in substantially disparate per-capita expenditures for education from one district to another.”–Robert D. Stone, Decision 1997, Constitutional Change in New York.
- “In a 2003 New York State Court of Appeals decision [Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York], the Court found that a “high school education is now all but indispensable” to prepare students for competitive employment and civic engagement. It held that the State Constitution requires that the State must provide “a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants.”” — Michael A. Rebell, NYSBA Government, Law and Policy Journal, Summer 2011, Vol 13, No. 1.
- According to the most recent data from The Empire Center for Public Policy, the average median teacher pay in the 100 most generous school districts in New York State is $115,430 per year, and in the hundred lowest, it’s $49,894. So teachers in the less wealthy districts make on average 43% of what teachers in the wealthier districts earn.
- The 1967 draft Constitution sought to bring equity to school finance by a provision calling for “…equality of educational opportunity…to…all the people of the state…”, by providing that “…the legislature shall provide necessary programs to develop the educational potential of each person…” and by specifying aspects of the educational aid formula designed to be more redistributive. –Robert D. Stone, Decision 1997, Constitutional Change in New York.
- “The state tests are tied to consequences for districts, schools and teachers as well as students. Districts are adding on benchmark, practice and interim tests, and that’s how they get these multiplying and ballooning requirements. That’s why the Council of the Great City Schools found that [U.S.] students are taking 113 standardized tests in grades K through 12.” – Anya Kamenetz, NPR, “The Past, Present and Future of High Stakes Testing,” January 22, 2015.
Written in the age of the horse and buggy in 1894, the education provision in the New York Constitution is badly outdated.
It took nearly ninety years, in the 1982 court decision in Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v Nyquist , for the courts to establish the state’s responsibility for providing a “sound basic education” for every student.
However, the court did not define what a “sound, basic education” meant. Even worse, the Levittown decision also declared that, constitutionally, massive inequality in our schools is acceptable. Judge Hugh R. Jones, who wrote the decision, stated that, “recognizing the existence of the very real disparities of financial support as found by the lower courts, we nonetheless conclude that such disparities do not establish that there has been a violation of either Federal or State Constitution.”
Judge Jones argued that, as of 1982, the state was meeting its duty to deliver funding sufficient for a sound, basic education. Yet in the future, should a “gross and glaring inadequacy” in state funding be demonstrated, Jones argued that the courts could mandate a “higher priority” for education.
Rather than attack the root of the problem and seek constitutional change, activists have sought to truly define a “sound, basic education.” This came to a head in the 2003 case Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York. Under then-governor George Pataki’s leadership, the State claimed it was only obligated to provide New Yorkers an eighth grade education. The New York Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the state must provide:
The opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants.
In this instance, the court found that the state violated the Constitution by failing to provide New York City public schools adequate resources to deliver a sound, basic education. However, it did not overturn Levittown and argue the state is obliged to provide students in these failing schools the same level of funding for education they would receive elsewhere.
In addition, “a meaningful high school education,” although not much more specific than a “sound, basic education,” might have been acceptable to prepare New Yorkers for life in the 20th century, but it’s highly problematic in the 21st century. Without a college degree, and/or technical education and continuing adult education, it’s increasingly difficult to go beyond a minimum wage. Even worse, the CFE decision only addressed New York City.
Following CFE, in 2007, the state legislature enacted reforms to the state aid system that promised students, not only in New York City, but throughout the state, billions of dollars in increased funding and a more equitable distribution of state aid. Since the recession of 2008, however, the state has not lived up to these commitments. There is a current case being litigated, NYSER v. State of New York, which is the follow up of the CFE decision to cover the entire state.
Where New York Education is now: Unequal and Underfunded
New York State will invest nearly $24.8 billion for statewide education during FY 2016, placing it third nationally, behind only California and Texas. Yet according to the national education policy group The Education Trust, New York State ranks Number 2 in the nation in educational inequality. Inequality in educational facilities has only grown over time. According to The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and the Public Policy and Education Fund (PPEF):
The gap between New York State’s 100 wealthiest school districts and the 100 poorest school districts has widened to $9,796 per pupil—a record setting level.
According to the AQE’s analysis, the 100 poorest schools spend $20,562 per student, while the hundred richest spend $30,358.
New York State has a child poverty crisis with one in two children living in poverty…. Wealthy school districts have a 92 percent graduation rate while poorer schools average a 66 percent graduation rate. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the nation’s leading nonprofit economic research organization, shows that a sustained 10% increase in funding results in an 11% increase in graduation rates.
The gap also strips schools of programs and opportunities. Half of the graduating cohorts in well-funded schools leave high school with a coveted Advanced Regents diploma while only 1 in 5 students in poor school districts graduated with an Advanced Regents diploma.
Why is school funding distributed unequally?
New York’s schools receive funding from the federal government, the state government, and local governments. The funding provided by local government is significant. In the 2013-14 school year, for instance, local communities spend over 54% of the state total for education.
From “The Education Dollar: A Look at Spending And Funding Trends,” New York State Association of School Business Officials, September, 2015.
“STAR” stands for the state’s School Tax Relief program.
Yet forcing schools to depend disproportionately on revenue from local taxes, primarily property taxes, guarantees inequality between wealthy and poor school districts. Even before the economic crisis, poorer districts saw their tax base shrinking, with fewer dollars going to support essential school programs.
For instance, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse have three of the highest poverty rates out of the nation’s 589 largest cities. Over 30 percent of each city’s population lives in poverty. For the 2014 school year, the spending per student was
- Buffalo – $18,913
- Rochester – $21,027
- Syracuse – $18,001
This would place all three cities at the low end of spending per pupil. Yet Buffalo, for instance, receives over $14,000 per student from the state. The city’s tax base, like the other cities upstate, simply can’t pay for the kind of education funding their students require. The state must make up the difference.
Additionally, in 2011, a law was passed limiting the amount local governments could increase property tax revenue in a year to just 2 percent, further restricting the ability of schools to raise extra revenue.
This cap, signed into law by Governor Cuomo, is by definition discriminatory, entrenching the education disparity between rich and poor districts. With property values in poor districts just a fraction of values in wealthier neighborhoods, the poor districts have no way to keep up.
Unfortunately, state funding is insufficient to address the education disparity in New York’s schools, a disparity worsened by the harmful property tax cap. The graph below displays a slow rise in the percentage of local property taxes making up for lower funding from the state and federal government:
From ANALYSIS OF SCHOOL FINANCES IN NEW YORK STATE SCHOOL DISTRICTS 2013-14, The University of the State of New York
In 2001-2, State funding was 48.5% of education funding per student, dipping to a low of 39.7 in the 2011-12 school year. Even for the 2014-15 school year, state aid made up only 41.8% of school revenues, so state funding is still way behind where it was at the beginning of the century. Meanwhile, local funding has gone up from 46.4% of state education spending in to 55.0% over the same period. So school districts around the state are depending more and more on property taxes to pay for education, which leads to greater and greater disparities in funding between districts.
“Poor school districts are being forced to cut electives, remedial tutoring, foreign languages and other programs and services to balance budgets. Many schools in less prosperous areas face what the state commissioner of education calls “educational insolvency.”
“A new statewide cap on how high local revenues can be raised is further exacerbating educational inequities. The cap limits property tax hikes to 2 percent, which may sound fair but actually contributes to school inequality: the permitted tax increase raises a lot more revenue from million-dollar homes for wealthy schools than it raises on $100,000 homes for poorer schools.”
--Billy Easton, “Albany’s Unkindest Cut of All” (May 25, 2012)
“Revenue growth from state and local sources will be limited for school districts in 2017 as the cap on property taxes and tax collections overall will take their toll, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli warned in an interview published Monday.
DiNapoli, speaking to the New York State School Boards Association, warned budget gaps over the next several years are possible, which he attributed to an increase in spending and declining tax revenue.
“We may have to be perhaps a little more conservative in our assumptions as we move forward,” DiNapoli told Kremer. “State budget gaps could be as high as $5 billion per year over three years due to increased state spending, decreased tax collections, and depletion of reserve funds.”
New York’s approach to high-stakes testing is totally wrong. The problem is big enough that we need a constitutional amendment that totally changes the State’s approach.
That amendment must make clear that for K-12, all formerly “high stakes” testing must be for the benefit of students and teachers and be diagnostic and prescriptive. The state needs diagnostic, prescriptive testing that empowers teachers and their students rather than serves as an inaccurate and unscientific critique of them.
This is a constitutional issue because this principle needs to be embedded in how the state approaches education.
The high-stakes tests include evaluations mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The purpose of these tests is to measure the success of either the particular school or system, not to help individual students and their teachers. As the New York City Department of Education states, “New York City and New York State use test results to evaluate how well schools are serving students.”
This is why the tests are taken towards the end of the school year in March, too late to inform much student instruction, but too early to provide a summative evaluation of the students. Rather, the data is presumably a measure of how well the teachers, the principals, and the school system itself are doing.
However, as Professor Anne K. Soderman of Michigan State University has written, “That more rigorous testing is an answer for the ills that face America’s schools is unreasonable and flawed thinking. [Howard] Gardner (2001) compares this with taking the temperature of a sick person repeatedly in order to improve their health.”
The success or failure on state tests is more a measure of the students’ economic class than the performance of the school:
Common sense and a closer look at differences in communities should tell us that school failure, as measured by these tests, has more to do with failing families and failing communities than the schools that the children attend. There is no documented evidence that teachers in failing schools are any less effective, less well trained or less motivated to help children learn than teachers in more successful schools. What is true is that educators in many of our low performing schools are dealing with an entirely different set of challenges. In failing schools, there is far more absenteeism, tardiness, problem behavior, poverty, family transitions and, noticeably, less parent participation.
So the tests don’t help the individual students because it doesn’t inform their teaching, nor are the tests a valid way of measuring the quality of teaching or administration in poor districts.
But testing is even more problematic than that. Students in big cities are spending twenty to twenty-five hours a year taking standardized tests – and that doesn’t include all the time the schools spend preparing the students for the tests. This is known as “teaching to the tests,” and it’s widespread and pernicious.
Standardized, high-stakes testing has had a profound impact on everyone involved in education. In fact, in a recent survey, nearly half of all teachers have considered leaving the profession because of standardized testing. It’s therefore no wonder, that twenty percent of children have been withdrawn by their parents from standardized testing in New York these last few years.
There is a better way.
In New York State, for K-12, all formerly “high stakes” testing must be for the benefit of students and teachers and be diagnostic and prescriptive. The purpose of the tests would be to inform the teacher of the progress and the deficiencies of each individual student. This information would therefore be actionable, so each student can receive the support he or she needs from the teacher or other resources to achieve and surpass grade level. The tests would also be earlier in the year, so the teacher would have time to implement individualized learning plans for each student.
The tests would not be used to measure teacher, school or district performance. Rather, the tests would focus solely on the needs and development of each student.
Many states have constitutional provisions establishing the state’s obligation to educate youth. Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center discusses these provisions in State Constitution Education Clause Language. The following are some examples:
From Article VIII of the Connecticut Constitution:
There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The general assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.
The fund, called the SCHOOL FUND, shall remain a perpetual fund, the interest of which shall be inviolably appropriated to the support and encouragement of the public schools throughout the state, and for the equal benefit of all the people thereof. The value and amount of said fund shall be ascertained in such manner as the general assembly may prescribe, published, and recorded in the comptroller’s office; and no law shall ever be made, authorizing such fund to be diverted to any other use than the encouragement and support of public schools, among the several school societies, as justice and equity shall require.
Although the language in this amendment is rather pale, a recent court case is forcing the state to completely reinvent its school system. From the New York Times:
The current system “has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder,” Judge Moukawsher said, betraying a promise in the State Constitution to give children a “fair opportunity for an elementary and secondary school education.”
Connecticut finances its schools with a combination of local property taxes and federal and state money in a way that is supposed to offset the huge disparities in property values between rich and poor towns. Bridgeport, court documents noted, has nearly eight times the population of nearby New Canaan, but property in that wealthy Fairfield County town is worth more than $1 billion more.
The state has faced a punishing fiscal crisis this year, resulting in layoffs and spending cutbacks. That led the General Assembly to cut state education aid to some of the poorest districts, with more than $905,000 cut from Bridgeport, and more than $600,000 cut from New Haven. Comparatively wealthy districts got more money: Branford, a New Haven suburb, got a funding increase of $300,000.
“An approach that allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students,” Judge Moukawsher wrote.
“The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.”
This amendment has been interpreted liberally by the State Court to examine educational outcomes as proof of equality of educational opportunity. In Abbott v. Burke II, the Court concluded that “[w]hat a thorough and efficient education consists of is a continually changing concept,” 575 A.2d 359 (1990), and that “embedded in the constitutional provision itself, at least in its construction thus far by this Court, are various objectives and permissible outcomes-equality, uniformity, diversity, and disparity.”Id. at 367. The court also held that the requirement set forth in Robinson, that children must be provided with the educational opportunity necessary for contemporary citizenship and employment, means “poorer disadvantaged students must be given a chance to compete with relatively advantaged students.” Id. at 372.For instance, the court noted that “the right to a thorough and efficient education does not ensure that every student will succeed. It must, however, ensure that every child in New Jersey has the opportunity to achieve.” Id. at 443. The court further commented: “Our Constitution requires that public school children be given the opportunity to receive a thorough and efficient education. That constitutional vision irrefutably presumes that every child is potentially capable of attaining his or her own place as a contributing member in society with the ability to compete effectively with other citizens and to succeed in the economy. The wisdom giving rise to that vision is that both the child and society benefit immeasurably when that potential is realized.” Abbott IV, 693 A.2d 417 (1997) http://www.educationjustice.org/states/newjersey/
Perhaps the most encompassing constitutional language, and maybe the best model, comes from Montana:
Section 1. Educational goals and duties. (1) It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state.
This language was adopted in 1973. Because of the guarantee of the equality of educational opportunity, in a 1988 court case, District Court Judge Henry Loble declared the state’s educational funding unconstitutional because of disparities and inequities among school districts with regard to tax burdens, educational expenditures, and educational opportunities. The Court stated that “fiscal difficulties in no way justify perpetuating inequities.” http://scholarship.law.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2270&context=mlr
Florida has very strong educational provisions in its constitution, although it defines users of the system as “children”:
(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require. To assure that children attending public schools obtain a high quality education, the legislature shall make adequate provision to ensure that, by the beginning of the 2010 school year, there are a sufficient number of classrooms so that:
(1) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for prekindergarten through grade 3 does not exceed 18 students;
(2) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for grades 4 through 8 does not exceed 22 students; and
(3) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for grades 9 through 12 does not exceed 25 students.
The class size requirements of this subsection do not apply to extracurricular classes. Payment of the costs associated with reducing class size to meet these requirements is the responsibility of the state and not of local schools districts. Beginning with the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the legislature shall provide sufficient funds to reduce the average number of students in each classroom by at least two students per year until the maximum number of students per classroom does not exceed the requirements of this subsection.
(b) Every four-year old child in Florida shall be provided by the State a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity in the form of an early childhood development and education program which shall be voluntary, high quality, free, and delivered according to professionally accepted standards. An early childhood development and education program means an organized program designed to address and enhance each child’s ability to make age appropriate progress in an appropriate range of settings in the development of language and cognitive capabilities and emotional, social, regulatory and moral capacities through education in basic skills and such other skills as the Legislature may determine to be appropriate.
(c) The early childhood education and development programs provided by reason of subparagraph (b) shall be implemented no later than the beginning of the 2005 school year through funds generated in addition to those used for existing education, health, and development programs. Existing education, health, and development programs are those funded by the State as of January 1, 2002 that provided for child or adult education, health care, or development.
The Illinois state constitution is high-minded but includes strong limits:
SECTION 1. GOAL – FREE SCHOOLS
A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.
The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law.
The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.
Article XI, New York Constitution
Section 1 (The text unchanged from the 1894 Constitution)
Text of Section 1:
The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.
“13 Ways High-Stakes Standardized Tests Hurt Students,” by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, March 11, 2014
“Analysis of School Finances in New York State School Districts”, The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department, Fiscal Analysis and Research Unit, January 2016.
“Census: Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester Among the Nation’s Poorest Cities,” by Mark Weiner, NYup.com, September 15, 2016.
“Confirmed: Standardized Testing Has Taken Over Our Schools. But Who’s to Blame?” by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, October 24, 2015.
“Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York,” by Gerald Benjamin and Henrik Dullea (ed.), Rockefeller Institute Press, 1997.
“DiNapoli Warns School Districts Will Face Limited Revenue,” Nick Reisman, NY State of Politics, September 12, 2016.
“Education: Opt-out Movement Remains Strong Across New York,” by Jon Campbell, Democrat and Chronicle, March 2, 2017 |
“The Education Dollar: A Look at Spending And Funding Trends,” New York State Association of School Business Officials, September, 2015.
“New Jersey,” Education Law Center.
“Funding Gaps 2015,” A report from the Education Trust, by Natasha Ushomirsky and David Williams, The Education Trust. Mar 25, 2015.
“Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Announce Agreement on the 2016-2017 State Budget,” Governor Cuomo’s Press Release, March 31, 2016.
“Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to Overhaul Its School System,” Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times, September 7, 2016.
“New York Spends the Most Per Student 4th Year in a Row,” by Julie McMahon, Syracuse.com, June 9, 2016.
“New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York: Frequently Asked Questions,” The Council of School Superintendents.
“NEA Survey: Nearly Half Of Teachers Consider Leaving Profession Due to Standardized Testing,” by Tim Walker, NEA Today, November 2, 2014.
“No Appetite to Educate,” Alliance for Quality Education, February, 2016.
“NYS School Spending: What Districts Get the Most State Aid? Least?” by Teri Weaver, Syracuse.com, June 22, 2015.
“The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing,” by Anya Kamenetz, NPR, January 22, 2015.
State Constitution Education Clause Language, Molly A. Hunter, Education Law Center, Newark, NJ.
“Statewide Testing: Problem or Solution for Failing Schools?” by Anne K. Soderman, Michigan Family Review, Volume 06, Issue 1, Fall 2001, pp. 55-66
“Teacher Pay,” Empire Center for Public Policy, 2017.
“Under Governor Cuomo, the Gap Between Rich and Pour Schools Rises to Historic Levels,” from the Alliance for Quality Education, February, 2016.
“Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem,” NPR, April 18, 2016,
“Yearly Testing,” New York City Department of Education.