As gratifying as it is to see New York's public school system get high marks from a study conducted by a national education publication, the effort also highlights a long-standing problem in need of an Albany solution.
According to the Education Week study, New York ranks second nationwide in providing per-pupil education funding and first in promoting high standards and accountability. But it also ranks 39th in its efforts to share funding fairly among rich and poor school districts, a statewide shame that has been allowed to fester far too long.
New York's complex school aid distribution formula needs revamping. This state must provide more help to the children who attend schools in relatively poor urban districts, which can't match the resources of suburban districts that have not only state aid but taxing authority to draw upon.
There are differing approaches to that. Revamping the state aid distribution formula is one, but lawmakers are wary of cutting any suburban aid to benefit urban districts -- a "hold harmless" political mandate that's far easier in times of prosperity than it is in times of fiscal crisis. State Education Commissioner Richard Mills sees possibilities in a restructuring that would allow a form of cooperative urban assistance similar to the BOCES, or Board of Cooperative Educational Services, support of suburban and rural districts.
A more equitable aid formula would be the better and more direct choice, and New Yorkers have a right to expect their elected representatives to tackle that task.
They may have help from the same group that filed a lawsuit over state funding of New York City schools -- a case that led to a court ruling, appealed by the state, that the current funding system is unconstitutional. While that case, which could have statewide implications, continues in the courts, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity will undertake a yearlong study with the New York State School Boards Association to determine how much it would cost in each of New York's 700 school districts to prepare students to meet high school Regents standards. The study will rely on leading national education experts, and several analytical approaches.
Education Week's national rankings gave New York an "A" for funding, second only to West Virginia. The new Regents standards, which demand performance from pupils and teachers alike, earned the state even higher marks -- best in the nation, in fact -- for academic standards, accountability and assessments.
But it is patently unfair to ask pupils in poor urban districts to match the performance of suburban students without providing a level playing ground in learning environments, textbook and equipment accessibility and other finance-related support.
Committed and enthusiastic teachers can make a big difference in a child's scholastic achievement. Concerned and involved parents, the real foundation for such achievement, can do even more. But the public school system as a whole has a mandated duty to provide an education for all children, and lawmakers have a moral duty to see that support is delivered fairly. If the bar is set at the same height for all children, equity means delivering the most public help to the children who need the biggest boost.
New Yorkers should welcome the good report card. But we can do better.