Nassau County's State Senators Call Upon Governor Pataki To Appeal New York City School Funding Order

Dean G. Skelos

February 18, 2005

Nassau County’s New York State Senate Delegation, including Senators Dean G. Skelos, Michael A.L. Balboni, Kemp Hannon, Carl L. Marcellino and Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., today held a press conference at the State Supreme Court Building in Mineola encouraging Governor George Pataki to appeal the order entered Monday by State Supreme Court (New York County) Justice Leland DeGrasse in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. In addition, the Nassau Senators noted that inadequate contributions from New York City’s taxpayers were responsible for the funding deficiency experienced by City schools and that, as a matter of equity, Long Island taxpayers should not be penalized for investing in their local school districts.

"Long Island taxpayers have invested heavily in the quality of our local schools," said Senator Skelos. "If this court order stands, it will slowly strangle the premier education system we have built over the last half century, irreparably harm the quality-of-life that we enjoy and require Long Islanders to pay more than their fair share."

In June 2003, the New York State Court of Appeals held that New York City’s schoolchildren were deprived of the "sound, basic education" guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. Despite a 56% increase in state education spending since 1995, Justice DeGrasse’s order requires New York State to file an appeal within the next 30 days or implement a five-year, $14.8 billion funding increase for New York City’s schools within the next 90 days. After a four-year phase-in period, the order requires $5.63 billion in additional, annual funding for New York City’s schools and another $9.178 billion in capital spending.

Pursuant to the court order, Long Island school districts would receive about half of the future state aid to which they are entitled under traditional state funding formulas. Last year, the State Senate passed its LEARN Act to address the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, preserve Long Island’s traditional 13% share of state education aid and provide hundreds of dollars in property tax rebates to each Long Island homeowner.

Between the 1994-95 and 2001-02 school years, the percentage of New York City’s total education budget derived from local tax dollars fell from 50% to 41.1%, with the state’s share rising from 41.9% to 51.3%. In comparison, state aid constituted only 25.44% of the average Nassau County’s school district’s total spending in the 2001-02 school year.

During the 2001-02 school year (the most recent for which detailed tax information is available), New York City levied education taxes equal to $12.80 per $1,000 in actual value. The statewide median, however, was 43% higher ($18.26 per $1,000). According to the New York State Education Department, this lack of local effort translates into a $1,940 deficiency per pupil. When multiplied by New York City’s over one million students, the City "shortchanges" its own students by more than $2 billion each year. This figure roughly equals the amount recommended by the New York State Commission on Education Reform, chaired by former Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Frank Zarb, in March 2004.

According to an analysis conducted by the Long Island Association, "City taxpayers could absorb the entire $5.63 billion in additional education costs through direct City taxes and still bear a tax burden in 2009 only equivalent to that borne by Long Island taxpayers in 2000."