Tenney: Where Is The Fair Share For Our Students?

A Column from Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R,C,I-New Hartford)
January 20, 2012
In his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo appointed himself as the lobbyist for New York’s schoolchildren. I applaud his commitment to finally putting children above the powerful education lobby, but I also remain committed to the parents and grandparents of Central New York – the taxpayers who pay the bills. Where is their lobbyist? I support defending these taxpayers just as zealously as our schoolchildren. Governor Cuomo can support both groups by reforming the school-aid formula to better meet the needs of low-wealth rural school districts such as those in Oneida and Oswego counties. And while he proposed to increase state school funding by $805 million, or 4.1 percent overall, the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal fails to prioritize funding based on our local communities’ abilities and needs.

Because of the failure of this Executive Budget to reform the education funding formula, it keeps in place the wide funding and quality divide between Central New York and downstate. In fact, despite Governor Cuomo’s proposed 4.1 percent school-aid increase, schools in our region will see much less than that. For example, Adirondack Central School District is slated to receive an increase of just 1.92 percent, 1.51 percent for APW, 2.04 percent for Westmoreland, and 2.35 percent for Sauquoit Valley.

Comparatively, school districts in wealthy downstate communities, such as North Salem in Westchester County, are slated to receive an increase of 11.6 percent. If we are increasing spending, it should be 4.1 percent across the board. Central New York deserves a fair share, especially since it was forced to shoulder the burdensome education cuts from last year – cuts that I voted against.

In fact, the schools of Central New York already are disproportionately suffering compared to downstate districts thanks to last year’s cuts and the historical imbalance in the state’s education funding formula. Last year, our local school districts saw drastic school-aid cuts per pupil: Remsen at $2,224; Westmoreland at $1,850; and Sauquoit Valley at $1,781. In comparison, wealthy counties, such as Westchester and Nassau, received per pupil cuts of $401 in Elmsford; $411 in Greenport; and $227 for Bronxville (nearly a tenth of Remsen’s reduction).

Schools in Oneida and Oswego counties deserve – and need – more from Albany, and that’s why I am aggressively trying to reform the school funding formula to account for our local communities’ abilities and needs. A formula should not change due to politics; rather, an equitable formula, one that benefits schoolchildren and taxpayers across our state, should be set and allowed to run. I voted against last year’s education budget, and I am prepared to vote against this year’s budget as well, unless these important reforms are made. A lobbyist for the Empire State’s students is overdue, but I want to be the lobbyist for their parents and grandparents as well.

Furthermore, I invite residents, local officials, teachers, parents and school administrators to join me in this fight. Please contact my office at the Westmoreland School to learn how you can become part of my Education Funding Reform Panel in order to share your thoughts on how we can reform our education funding to better all students and local taxpayers. Please email me at tenneyc@assembly.state.ny.us or call my office at 315-853-2383 to learn more.