Opinion Editorial on Redistricting
Some lessons in compromiseEditorial Board
Our opinion: A better state budget would incorporate both Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s incentives for schools and more money for poorer districts.
So here we are, well into March, amid indications that the governor and the state Legislature are on their way to delivering a state budget by the date it’s legally due, April 1. Imagine that! The bad old days of less than a decade ago seem far off — those days when this season would be most notable for the tiresome volleys of a budget battle that would extend well into spring, if not summer
What has changed?
Well, legislators in particular have become quite sensitive to the political pressure and plain old shame that needless delays in the budget can bring upon them. They’ve come to embrace compromise, not just as a high-minded theory but as a way of doing business.
This year shouldn’t be any different. At the top of the agenda for Governor Cuomo and legislators alike should be resolving their different approaches to allocating aid to New York’s school districts.
Mr. Cuomo wants to make school aid — which is about 15 percent of overall state spending — less of an entitlement and more of a reward. He wants increases in aid for individual school districts to be partially based upon their students’ academic performance. School districts would have to compete for extra dollars.
The governor wants to set aside $250 million of a proposed $805 million increase in local education aid for schools that are setting a example for the rest of the state. That’s one step, surely, toward ridding New York of the stigma of spending more per student on education than any other state yet ranking closer to the bottom in graduation rates and standardized test scores. A disparity like that reflects even more poorly upon New York than all those years of late budgets did.
It’s a sensible idea, certainly. But it goes only so far. Fixing the way all the state’s school aid is distributed — some $20.3 billion during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, by Mr. Cuomo’s proposal — also needs attention. And that’s a more complex matter, one that can’t be decided simply by rewarding districts for the collective performance of their students.
Fundamental inequities mar the state’s school aid distribution formula. That’s because the formula often has been adjusted to meet political objectives rather than academic goals. Perpetuating those inequities has become a perverse measure of legislative performance: a lawmaker who keeps the school aid flowing, regardless of need, can usually count on re-election.
But the sense seems to be taking hold in the Legislature that poorer school districts need to be taken care of first. It’s an idea that could be seen as contrary to Cuomo’s, because extra money for the schools that truly distinguish themselves can be fairly seen as a luxury, compared with seeing that schools that have been getting shortchanged year after year, decade after decade, begin to get their fairer share.
To ask who should prevail here — the governor or the Legislature — is to see the issue in the excessively narrow terms that have defined too many policy debates. The budget they’re shaping needs to send the clear signal that one worthwhile policy initiative doesn’t preclude another. Needy schools and improving schools both deserve resources.
A governor so determined to establish benchmarks for measuring improvements in education should be judged that way, too. From now until April 1, let’s be watchful for a budget that incorporates the compromise that a more fair yet more effective allocation of school aid requires.