DFER Idiocy on New York School Finance

This may just be among the most ludicrous proclamations I’ve read in quite some time, and it’s brought to us by none other than Dimwits doofuses/doofi? …well something with a “D” For Education Reform:

“Contrary to what you may hear from certain special interest groups, the best way to fix our schools is not just to pour more money into the education bureaucracy. New York already spends $75 billion in education annually—from public schools to state funded universities—more than the total annual budget of 47 other states. What we need is smarter investments that actually deliver results, like statewide universal full-day pre-k, scholarships for students in critically-needed STEM courses and funding to reward our hardest working teachers. Governor Cuomo is taking a stand for our students by pushing for these programs, and we should all join him in putting our students first.” – See more at: http://www.dfer.org/blog/2014/03/dfer-ny_release_1.php#sthash.GfFKgHng.dpuf
I’ve spoken on this point on many  previous occasions – that simply throwing out “big a-contextual numbers” is pointless. It says nothing. It’s bafflingly ignorant – mathematically inept and simply stupid. That NY “already spends $75 billion in education annually” is neither here nor there without context. It’s just dumb blather – pointless. Saying that it’s “more than the total budget of 47 other states” is equally stupid.
Let’s review NY state school finance issues for a moment. Here’s a recap of previous posts:

  1. On how New York State crafted a low-ball estimate of what districts needed to achieve adequate outcomes and then still completely failed to fund it.
  2. On how New York State maintains one of the least equitable state school finance systems in the nation.
  3. On how New York State’s systemic, persistent underfunding of high need districts has led to significant increases of numbers of children attending school with excessively large class sizes.
  4. On how New York State officials crafted a completely bogus, racially and economically disparate school classification scheme in order to justify intervening in the very schools they have most deprived over time.

But sticking specifically to the current issue, take a look here at how the Governor’s current budget proposal severely undercuts in state aid WHAT SCHOOL DISTRICTS NEEDED BACK IN 2007 UNDER LOWER STANDARDS, based on the state’s own formula estimates.

Below are the more comprehensive briefs on this topic. Yeah… I know this is way to  difficult reading for them DFER folk… and it includes math and numbers… but those seeking a deeper understanding of school funding in New York State please do read.

Here’s a post in which I explain more concisely these issues! To summarize without copying the whole post, New York State has continued raising outcome standards and continues to fall more than 30% short of their own school finance formula funding targets. Funding targets which were a) low-balled in the first place and b) have been lowered since.

Funding shortfalls for many districts are around 50% of the aid they should receive. And those shortfalls are greatest for the neediest districts. The state continues to underfund NYC’s foundation aid by about $3 billion per year.

Top 50 2014-15 Budgeted Shortfalls

[data run as of 1/17/14]


Further, our annual report Is School Funding Fair has repeatedly identified NY state as among the most regressively financed states in the nation – that is, states where state and local revenue is systematically lower in higher poverty districts.

My more recent longitudinal analyses show negligible progress for NY state from 1993 to 2011. This graph (below) of mid-Atlantic states shows that despite court orders in the past, NY state continues to operate a regressively funded  system.

On the vertical axis we have the school funding fairness ratio, based on the model we use in our annual report, but extended over 19 years. This ratio shows the expected spending or revenue at 30% census poverty over the expected revenue at 0% poverty. When the ratio is over 1.0, the system is progressive and when it’s under 1.0 it’s regressive.

NY has been regressive since 1993 and shows little sign of improving (backsliding for now). Also noted are timings of judicial rulings – this stuff is from a forthcoming paper I’m working on for an academic conference. As is well understood, Pennsylvania is also a particularly regressive state.


And now to reiterate one more thing – which I wrote about just the other day – uh… yesterday! 

School finance reform does matter! On balance, it is safe to say that a significant and growing body of rigorous empirical literature validates that state school finance reforms can have substantive, positive effects on student outcomes, including reductions in outcome disparities or increases in overall outcome levels. Further, it stands to reason that if positive changes to school funding have positive effects on short and long run outcomes both in terms of level and distribution, then negative changes to school funding likely have negative effects on student outcomes.

I’ve also addressed this here: http://www.shankerinstitute.org/images/doesmoneymatter_final.pdf

And here! http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=16106

It is completely ignorant to assert – NY spends $75 billion – therefore that’s enough. Schools just need to spend it better with absolutely no understanding of where that money is in the state – which districts  have more and which have less – or how much may really be needed to provide for an equitable and adequate system of school funding in New York.

So… am I forgoing civil discourse here a bit. Hell yeah! This ignorant drivel by DFER is pathetic political pandering. And it’s just dumb. Dangerously dumb.

All toward the noble cause of advocating against equitable and adequate school funding for the state’s neediest schoolchildren. ???

Civil discourse ended as soon as they decided that facts and context simply don’t matter. I simply have no tolerance for this level of stupid!

5 thoughts on “DFER Idiocy on New York School Finance

  1. I think this post was a mistake. Your critiques are REALLY hard to write off when you make them helpful and constructive, yet firm. Calling people idiots shuts off dialog. Why should they have to “lose” to hear you? I know, I know… but there is an etymological connection between “tactical” and “tact.” You aren’t a crank, but your way of expressing your insights today was cranky.

    A scorched-earth communication style is taking over political discourse, and sadly it is leaking into policy discussions where it doesn’t belong and doesn’t help. Sure, there’s a role for table-pounding. Name-calling is a playground foul, though. In my opinion people like you, who have an unusual capacity to bring facts to the argument, shouldn’t stoop to it. Some people will cheer your outspoken criticism. I encourage you to ignore them and play for the long game.

    1. I do hear you… but I’m not willing to let this pass. It’s just too ridiculous. Their post here must be called out for what it is.

  2. I don’t think it is a coincidence that NJ has a nearly unparalleled commitment to funding its poorest school districts and one of the most underfunded pension systems in the USA. New Jersey’s per employee pension commitments are the same as New York’s and its taxes are just as high, yet New York State’s pension system is highly solvent and New Jersey’s are a mess.

    NJ began to underfund its pensions in the early 1990s, at the same time as the state began to send more money to its poorest districts. Remember, Florio tried to increase school aid for urban and rural districts at the expense of suburban districts and taxpayers statewide. Florio originally wanted (and the legislature passed) making the 150 wealthiest districts pay for pensions, Social Security, and retiree health benefits.

    There was a tax revolt and when the Republicans took control of the legislature they wanted to restore suburban school aid. Florio would not allow rural and urban district aid to be cut, so the two parties agreed to keep urban + rural aid, restore some suburban aid, but accomplish this by lowering pension contributions.

    “The protests quickly dissipated when education officials announced plans for the extra infusion of $341 million, which would be made possible by reducing the state’s contribution to public employee pension funds.”

    This continued under Whitman, who kept Abbott funding, increased K-12 aid overall, cut taxes to a level taxpayers could survive on, but underfunded the pension system.

    I wouldn’t accuse NYS of following “idiocy” because NJ is “idiotic” in so many ways too.

    1) NJ has made a utopian commitment to its poorest districts, made a blatantly political commitment to its public employees, and decided to make future taxpayers and students pay for it.

    2) The two-tier Abbott funding regime also locks 31 districts as in need of special need, but the list has not been updated. In the early 1980s the Abbott districts were indeed the lowest-resource (large) districts in NJ, but they are no longer. Many districts, like Carteret and Belleville, are poorer than most of the Abbotts and yet get a fraction as much state aid. Hoboken has over $4 million in property valuation per student and is the highest resource large district in NJ. The children of investment bankers in Hoboken get “free” preschool, children in poverty in Belleville get nothing.

    3) Does NYS have the equivalent of Adjustment Aid? ie, an aid stream that intentionally goes to districts that have become wealthier?

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