The Cuomology of State Aid (or Tales from Lake Flaccid)

We’ve heard much bluster over time about school funding in New York State, and specifically how money certainly has no role in the policy debate over how to fix New York State schools, unless it has to do with providing more money to charter schools, or decrying the fact that district schools statewide are substantially over-funded.  See for example, this wonderfully absurd rant from DFER.

Here’s a recap of other posts I’ve written in recent years on NY school finance:

  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.

I also recently wrote about this interesting trend in NY state school finance and NY state outcome standards- specifically that the state continues to raise the bar on outcomes while lowering the funding target intended to be sufficient for meeting those outcomes.

As I previously explained, regarding outcome standards:

Put simply, higher student outcome standards cost more to achieve, not less. As explained above, the New York State school finance formula is built on an underlying basic cost estimate of what it would take for a low need (no additional student needs) district to achieve adequate educational outcomes as measured on state assessments. The current formula is built on average spending estimates dating back several years now and based on prior outcome standards, tied to a goal of achieving 80% proficient or higher. More than once in the past several years, the state has substantively increased the measured outcome standards.

For 2010, the Regents adjusted the assessment cut scores to address the inflation issue, and as one might expect proficiency rates adjusted accordingly. The following figure shows the rates of children scoring at level 3 or 4 in 2009 and again in 2010. I have selected a few key, rounded, points for comparison. Districts where 95% of children were proficient or higher in 2009 had approximately 80% in 2010. Districts that had 80% in 2009 had approximately 50% in 2010. This means that the operational standard of adequacy using 2009 data was equivalent to 50% of children scoring level 3 or 4 in 2010. This also means that if we accept as reasonable, a standard of 80% at level 3 or 4 in 2010, that was equivalent to 95% – not 80% – in 2009.

Slide1This next figure shows the resulting shift of the change in assessments from 2012 to 2013, also for 8th grade math. Again, I’ve applied ballpark cutpoint comparisons.  Here, a school where 60% were proficient in 2012 was likely to have 20% proficient in 2013. A school where 90% were proficient in 2012 was likely to have 50% proficient in 2013.   If, as state policymakers argue, the 2013 assessments do more accurately represent the standard for college readiness, and thus the constitutional standard of meaningful high school education, it is quite likely that the cost of achieving that constitutional standard is much higher than previously estimated. Notably, only a handful of schools surpass the 80% threshold on math proficiency for the 2013 assessments.


Yet, as I also explained in that previous post that while it appears that the state has been chipping away at funding gaps for districts including New York City, they have not done so by substantively increasing funding, but rather by decreasing the adequate funding target.  This figure shows that the underlying basic cost figure for the foundation aid formula climbed gradually as planned through 2012-13. Note that this climb was based on the assumed 80% success rate on the 2007-08 outcome standard, not considering the 2009-10 adjustment to that outcome standard. But inexplicably, the state has chosen to reduce the basic funding figure for each year since, despite raising the outcome standards dramatically.


In their final adopted 2014-15 budget, state legislators did come through with some more funding for high need districts. That should not be discounted entirely. BUT… the state has played numerous games of late with the funding formula to far overstate their accomplishments- one of which is lowering the target. Of course it’s easier to slam dunk when you lower the rim. But even then, there’s no slam dunking going on here. Let’s take a look at the structure of funding and remaining gaps from fy14 to fy15.

This figure shows that for low need districts, the funding gap (to target funding) in 2014 was about $1,200 per pupil and that gap was reduced by about $200 per pupil. For high need districts, the gap was over $3,400 per pupil as was reduced to around $2,600 per pupil, a seemingly large reduction. But, first, remember that the target was lowered. And second, take a look at the green/blue numbers. State aid was indeed increased in high need districts by about $300 per pupil, but the required local contribution for these districts was increased by about $400 per pupil!


Yeah… that’s right… you tell ’em Andy – Go pay for it yourself… uh… except that…uh… we told you that you can’t actually raise your local levy more than 2%? and if you do, we’ll penalize you! Damnit! So there!

Let’s peel this back a bit. First, here’s the effect of the lowering of the base on the funding gaps. That gap, which appears to be only about $2,639 in 2015 for high need districts would still be over $2,900 if the state hadn’t lowered the bar! In fact, the bar should have been rising if for no other reason than basic inflationary adjustment, setting aside the higher standards.


Now it would be one thing if local contributions were generally lagging in high need districts. Indeed, some districts like Poughkeepsie have historically had lower than average local effort. But, many of these districts are so property poor and low income that raising local taxes generates little additional revenue. Here’s the average local effort by need group, from 2011-12.


And here’s a look a the changes in required local contribution. Yeah… that’s right… if you’re a low need district, on average, your required local contribution goes down slightly. And if your a high need district, your local contribution skyrockets!


So, should NY bureaucrats really be patting themselves on the back for their great accomplishments at closing funding gaps? Well, I’m certainly willing to give credit for the fact that the state did increase aid to a greater degree in districts with greater need.

But, let’s be clear here:

1) the state has still barely put a dent in the funding gaps that exist between actual foundation aid and funding targets defined by the state’s own (woefully inadequate) foundation aid formula.

2) the state has placed an additional burden on high need districts that many likely can’t even (or wouldn’t be allowed to) meet.

3) the state has engaged in egregious manipulation of state aid runs in their efforts to deceive local district officials and the general public regarding the adequacy of state aid.

And that’s just wrong!







Published by schoolfinance101

Bruce Baker is an Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. From 1997 to 2008 he was a professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. He is lead author with Preston Green (Penn State University) and Craig Richards (Teachers College, Columbia University) of Financing Education Systems, a graduate level textbook on school finance policy published by Merrill/Prentice-Hall. Professor Baker has written a multitude of peer reviewed research articles on state school finance policy, teacher labor markets, school leadership labor markets and higher education finance and policy. His recent work has focused on measuring cost variations associated with schooling contexts and student population characteristics, including ways to better design state school finance policies and local district allocation formulas (including Weighted Student Funding) for better meeting the needs of students. Baker, along with Preston Green of Penn State University are co-authors of the chapter on Conceptions of Equity in the recently released Handbook of Research Education Finance and Policy, and co-authors of the chapter on the Politics of Education Finance in the Handbook of Education Politics and Policy and co-authors of the chapter on School Finance in the Handbook of Education Policy of the American Educational Research Association. Professor Baker has also consulted for state legislatures, boards of education and other organizations on education policy and school finance issues and has testified in state school finance litigation in Kansas, Missouri and Arizona. He is a member of the Think Tank Review Panel, a group of academic researchers who conduct technical reviews of publicly released think tank reports on education policy issues.

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