School Funding Formula Needs Reform

David J. Valesky

September 15, 2005

As teachers and children begin another school year it is also time for those of us in state government to refocus on what we can do to improve our schools and better prepare our children for the future.
Right now, I believe we are not doing enough.

One simple example is the issue of school supplies. Due to tight budgets, many school districts have cut spending on classroom supplies. This forces dedicated teachers to spend money out of their own pocket to benefit their students. The federal government already allows an income tax credit for classroom supplies; I sponsored a bill that would allow a similar credit on state taxes.

But this barely scratches the surface of the problems faced by our public schools.
While we have many great teachers and excellent schools across our region, other schools -- both urban and rural -- teach children in dilapidated buildings, temporary trailers, and overcrowded classrooms. Meanwhile, taxpayers across our state continue to pay higher and higher school tax bills as all school districts face increased energy costs and skyrocketing medical expenses.

At the crux of our education funding dilemma is a broken state school funding formula. The funding problem is so bad that -- due to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision -- the state has been ordered by its own courts to change the funding formula just to comply with our state constitution.

It is outrageous that a court has had to step in to resolve an issue that the Legislature should be addressing on its own. But there is no way around the issue. New York's education funding formula is in desperate need of reform.

The problems in the New York City schools make a lot of headlines, but school districts all across upstate are facing the same problem. In a recent study approximately 78 percent of New York’s school districts need more money to provide an adequate education.

Rural and urban districts alike are being shortchanged every year by an archaic state funding formula that only rewards a few affluent and well-connected districts.

Back to school time should serve as a reminder to everyone in government that one of our most important responsibilities is ensuring all students receive access to a quality education. As the new Legislative session looms on the horizon, it is incumbent on Albany to make education funding reform a top priority.