The saying “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” has been attributed to Mark Twain. You can add to that thought that everybody talks about public education but nobody does anything about it. The year 2015 will be the test to see if New York state will take any real action to make the public education system any better. There is only one guarantee at this stage, and that is that the battle in Albany will be brutal.
The issue of the fair distribution of school aid has been on the table for over 50 years, since before an infamous Levittown court case. Most of the parties to that lawsuit agreed that the way money was being distributed to school districts was unfair, and the courts tried to make it a little fairer. But fast-forward to 2015 and there’s no doubt that the distribution of school dollars is still tilted toward the wealthier school districts, while the poorer ones get the crumbs.
Much to their credit, the Long Island State Senate’s Republican delegation has insisted each year that suburban schools get no less than they got the previous year. But that doesn’t solve the problem of school districts that have no shopping malls or factories to create a tax bonanza. Those so-called poor districts aren’t just on Long Island; they’re all over the state. The vast majority of them are begging for their fair share, as they have children who look just like children all over the state.
In the next few weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will continue his latest round of attempts to change the way schools spend money. His newly proposed real estate break for renters and owners whose combined income is less than $250,000 is a good way to start the debate. There’s no question that a lot of people with modest incomes spend more than 6 percent of their salaries on school taxes.
There’s also no doubt that his idea will be subject to some changes, because the State Legislature never adopts any proposal made by a governor without some tweaking, but this reform will happen. Oh yes, there’s a catch to the governor’s plan: The tax benefit will go only to residents of school districts that keep their budget growth under the 2 percent tax cap.