For the first time in our history, we are being faced with an unthinkable realization: upstate school districts are considering bankruptcy due to a lack of state aid. Equally unfortunate and unbeknownst to taxpayers and some upstate legislators is the fact that for a third year public assistance funding has increased by 10 percent. Though different, voting in favor of one means voting in favor of the other. The connection between these two lies within the complex magic of the 2012-13 State Budget.
This year’s budget was divided into a total of 11 different bills. The education part of the budget, which authorizes state aid to our schools, was packaged into the same spending plan as Labor and Family Assistance, which includes public assistance funding.
Anyone would agree that these budget items are entirely different. But since they are packaged into a single budget bill, legislators are faced with a predicament: vote in favor of school aid and thus in favor of public assistance, or vote against public assistance, a program that needs no more money, and regrettably vote down valuable school aid at a time when our upstate schools need it the most.
According to this year’s Education, Labor and Family Assistance budget bill (A.9057-D), public assistance funding increased by 10 percent. What many also do not realize is that since 2009 public assistance funding increased 20 percent – including this year that results in a 30 percent increase that the public is unaware of.
While I do support the school aid that our upstate schools need, I disagree with the school aid formula, and I cannot support increased funding to public assistance when our children’s quality of education is in jeopardy. This is the typical bait-and-switch games played by Albany at the taxpayer’s expense, which is why I voted against this part of the budget.
Schools have been struggling for the past two years following cuts in state aid. Quite frankly, our schools are not prepared for what is to come unless significant changes are made by the state and by the schools who ultimately administer their own costs. There is only one way that this situation can be fixed that is favorable to both school districts and taxpayers alike – change the formula by which state aid is allocated to schools.
It is not unfair to say that downstate districts can absorb cuts, where state aid makes up a small percentage of their entire budgets. Upstate school districts on the other hand, rely much more heavily on state aid as a percentage of their annual budgets. Our local tax base cannot absorb dramatic cuts like downstate districts, especially when considering the potential for drastic, double-digit tax increases in their property tax bills to make up the difference.
Something has to change, and packaging this year’s valuable school aid with a program that continues to siphon taxpayer dollars is insulting. We owe it to our rural, upstate students to find opportunities for them that are otherwise enjoyed by wealthier districts. I am asking for the governor’s leadership to fix these inequities. I will do my part for our schools, but we all must do our part in order to save them from bankruptcy.