They’re Cutting Bone

Jack M. Martins

My wife and I know a successful, young couple that live in a spacious Manhattan apartment. They have lots of dining and entertainment options, a doorman and great views of a park. Best of all, they roll out of bed, hop on a subway and they’re at the office in a matter of minutes. They’ve got it made, yet everyone’s debating how long it will be before they move to Long Island. 

You guessed it. This dynamic duo now has a newborn and as with many young families, conversations turn to where best to raise a family. Of course, they’re dutifully fighting it. Hoboken has a “hip little downtown.” Parts of Brooklyn have a “good vibe” but ultimately, the conclusion is always the same: growing families need safe communities and good schools. 

Education has been part of this equation for as long as I can remember. I’ve known people who paid top dollar for drafty old houses with bad plumbing on busy streets, just to get into a particular school district. And background, faith, or politics don’t matter; we are united in wanting what’s best for our children. Real estate agents say this is key to Long Island’s robust real estate market. We’re a stone’s throw away from Manhattan and boast some of the best schools in the country. That’s an enviable distinction but one that could now be in jeopardy. 

Governor Hochul’s recently proposed budget contains some controversial changes to state aid formulas that hurt Long Island schools.  For starters, she’s eliminating 1976’s “hold harmless” provision that gave schools planning stability by guaranteeing at least the same level of funding year to year. That’s because schools couldn’t fairly be expected to put programs in place one year and then pull the rug out on children and parents the next. Unfortunately, her effort will result in more than $167 million in cuts to 337 districts, more than half of the districts in the state, and many of them on Long Island. 

She’s also changing “school aid runs.” So instead of computing for current inflation, she’s using an 8-year average, which lowers the amount of aid by another $245 million.  Frankly, I can’t think of a greater accounting end run. Do our school superintendents get to tell labor, vendors, or even their insurance that they won’t pay increased fees and prefer to pay an “8-year average?” This is no time for make-believe.  If it wouldn’t work in our personal budgets, it won’t work in theirs either. 

Suffice to say Nassau and Suffolk counties are faced with a combined loss of $75 million, our district alone facing a drop of $5.2 million.  The Governor would have you believe that we can just change brands of soap and make those savings, but they’re not cutting fat, they’re cutting bone.  These funds pay for things like special education, development programs, music, and art – things that make our schools special. And unlike other parts of the state where school budgets get as much as 90% from state aid, some of ours receive as little as 5%. That means taxpayers shoulder 95% of the costs locally. To ask them to pay more is nothing short of government malpractice.  And in a $233 billion budget that’s growing by $5.9 billion in state operating funds, savings can certainly be found elsewhere. She’s spending $2.4 billion on illegal migrants, $275 million on artificial intelligence and even $150 million on swimming pools. Are Long Island students less important? 

We are America’s first suburb, with communities that place a high value on family life and safety. We are neighbors who send $15 billion more in taxes to Albany than we get back and schools are the backbone of our communities. This is not Democratic versus Republican because districts everywhere are getting cut. This is Long Island versus Albany. It’s time to lock arms and voice our opposition.