Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed $137.2 billion state budget for 2014-15 should be popular among area school superintendents.
Projections show a $5,305,004 total increase in state aid for Chautauqua County schools and a $3,102,635 total increase for Cattaraugus County schools. Superintendents point to foundation aid, however, which will remain frozen at last year's levels of $158,073,563 for Chautauqua County schools and $115,549,185 for Cattaraugus County schools.
Tim Mains, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, and many other superintendents contacted recently are upset that much of the aid increase is actually the state's restoration Gap Elimination Adjustment money, or funds that should have been paid to districts years ago but were cut out of the budget when the state was running deficits. Mains asks how the state can continue to have any Gap Elimination Adjustment when it says it can afford tax-relief programs from a state surplus. In Jamestown, eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment would add $1 million to the district's state aid.
While the aid increase would be nice, let's not deceive ourselves. Increases in aid will help local school districts' bottom lines, but likely won't result in a better education.
New York spends roughly $9,000 more per pupil on education than any other state, according to U.S. Census data. That investment has so far bought us an educational system that works so well, the state decided to implement the Common Core State Standards because so few children were graduating with the skills necessary for college or a career.
The state must make it easier to cut costs. School administrators have pointed out for years the problems related to unfunded state mandates like the Triborough Amendment, the Wicks Law and special-education requirements. Implementing the Common Core State Standards and the state's teacher evaluation requirements come at a cost to school districts as they buy new textbooks and, in some cases, hire additional staff to deal with additional mandates.
Throwing money at education does not make education - the biggest portion of most taxpayers' yearly bills - any more efficient. While superintendents ask for more money, taxpayers should continue asking for the state's help making existing money stretch further. Providing schools with the means to cut costs will go a long way toward long-term improvements in the education system.