Recent comments from State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno about education funding left many wondering whether the issue of devising an equitable aid formula is being taken seriously in Albany. We have our doubts. At a press conference, Bruno said it is "conceivable" that the state's overall education funding pot is adequate to deal with a Court of Appeals ruling that found the state's school aid formula unconstitutional because it shortchanged students in New York City with crowded classrooms and inadequate services.
Bruno's statement stunned a lot of people, and understandably so. If the court said that students were being shortchanged, it would seem logical that more money would be needed to rectify that situation. That's especially true in light of the Legislature's reluctance to take money away from wealthier districts.
The case before the appeals court specifically targeted New York City public schools, but the expectation has been that the ruling would result in more funding for other poor districts. Bruno's comments seem aimed at avoiding that scenario.
Education advocates have every right to be concerned. If the Legislature is not going to redistribute aid or raise taxes, it is not clear where the money for these poor districts will come from. Moreover, in the case of Buffalo and other urban districts, school officials lack the power to raise school taxes on their own.
If Bruno thinks he has a formula to meet the court's mandate with the existing pool of money, he needs to explain it more clearly. Right now it seems that he's just trying to avoid the political nightmare of taking from affluent districts and giving to poorer schools.
Taking aid away from any district doesn't excite us, but absent a new revenue source, there may not be a choice. If anyone has doubts about the horrible inequity of school funding, we invite him to walk through some science labs in wealthy suburban districts and then take a similar stroll through Buffalo or New York City classrooms.
The court ordered the state to come up with a plan by July 30. In the meantime, the group that brought the lawsuit, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, wants the state to show it the money. Specifically, a $2 billion down payment in additional state aid in the new fiscal year that begins April 1. Nothing like that appeared in the governor's budget proposal announced Tuesday.
Bruno's office pointed out that New York State spends more per pupil on education than any other state in the country at $11,500. But those numbers don't change the fact that students from poor urban districts do not get the same educational opportunities as kids in more affluent suburbs. The state's school aid formula -- which is understood by almost nobody -- has to be revamped so it will allow for a sound education for all of New York State's students regardless of where they live.