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NY needs to provide education but stay within a budget

In 2017-18, New York spent $24,040 per pupil to educate its children. To put this another way, the cost of the education each New York student received equals a 2020 Nissan Altima from state government.

The choices our state government makes regarding education spending, however, essentially leave the state paying for a brand-new car but choosing to fix grandma’s old, rusted-out station wagon, with no air conditioning and an AM/FM cassette radio, because it’s easier to drive the old car than it is to go to a dealership and buy a new one.

The cost is the same. The performance is not.

School aid increased by 41% between April 2011 and April 2019, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. In that same period, the consumer price index increased 14%. Had New York simply increased school aid at the same rate as the CPI, the state would have spent $5.4 billion less on school aid in the 2020-21 school year.

According to the Empire Center, in 1999-2000, New York spending was 42% higher than the national average, and results on NAEP, commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, were slightly above average. In 2017-18, spending was 91% higher than the national average and NAEP results had declined to average or slightly below average.

State legislators are talking about whether to increase education aid for the coming year, but what does that increase actually buy? In our view, simply increasing aid to schools is the wrong way to look at education funding, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state doesn’t have the money to increase state aid to schools, which is why Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking federal stimulus money and using it to replace the state’s spending on schools.

Instead, legislators, the state Board of Regents and the state Education Department should be focused on finding a way to provide the education students and their families deserve while staying within a budget.

Some years, you can afford a new car. Other years, you look for a smaller, cheaper model. When it comes to education , there are ways to do so.

No legislator wants to touch the live wire of school consolidations, even though study after study has shown the idea saves money and allows the consolidated school district to offer more courses to its students. Consolidation pushed by state government and education policy makers is off the table due to a lack of guts and an unwillingness to upset teachers’ unions.

There are other options, like regional high schools. Legislation has been kicking around the state Legislature since at least 2014 that would give school districts permission to, in essence, share a high school as long as one high school closes. The only thing missing is something to push school districts into the regional concept — because we have seen in the past saving money and improving education are only rarely enough of a reason for area residents to vote for any sort of consolidation or merger.

Change must be made, and now is as good a time as any. That means local residents also must buy into the possibilities of school consolidations. Taxpayers must get over the concern that “their school” will lose its identity. It’s time for a change.

Because if we continue with the status quo, in 10 or 15 years, per-pupil education spending may have been able to buy an SUV or a minivan — but we’ll still be stuck wasting good money after bad fixing the old, rusted-out station wagon.

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