Gary Bixhorn (Superintendent of Eastern Suffolk BOCES.). Newsday. 4/14/2005.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision found that students in New York City are not receiving the "sound basic education" to which they are entitled. The court has ordered that more funding be directed to the city schools in order to assure that educational services improve.
The court decision addresses only the education of New York City students and orders a remedy specific to their situation. It's generally agreed that there are students across New York State who face circumstances similar to those in the city and, therefore, most educators have called for a statewide solution to the funding situation. This is the case on Long Island, where all major education groups, as well as the Long Island Association, have advocated for statewide reform of the funding mechanism for schools.
On Long Island, there is a tremendous disparity among school districts. We have many of the finest school systems in the state and some that are furthest from meeting state standards. The gap between these two sets of school districts was recently reinforced through the release of two documents - a reprint of the Newsday editorial series "The Shame of the Suburbs" and the Long Island Education Coalition-Long Island Association report, "Long Island Education: Costs and Outcomes and Regional Priorities for State Aid Reform."
The Newsday editorials from last June identified the "shame" as "the relatively few school districts - about a dozen of Nassau and Suffolk's 124 - whose students, mostly minority, lag far behind their peers in scholastic achievement."
"The Costs and Outcomes" report builds a case that the vast majority of Long Island schools are the "pride of the suburbs." This report clearly indicates that, by every measure, students on Long Island outperform students from across the state. Long Island students do better on every state assessment and Regents exam. More of our students pursue education beyond high school, fewer drop out of school and more receive Regents diplomas.
These superior results come at a cost that is very much in line with the state average. When regional cost differences are considered, the per- pupil cost of an education on Long Island is slightly below the state median. Further, the popular belief that almost all of our students come from wealthy school districts is a myth. In fact, nearly 40 percent of them are enrolled in school districts that are below the state average in wealth.
The report also outlines the priorities for state-aid reform that Long Islanders should embrace. With the court decision ordering that additional funding be directed to New York City schools, it is especially important that the needs of Long Island's schools and students continue to be recognized.
The case can be made that, if state funds were allocated with consideration of regional cost differences and students or schools with extraordinary needs, and if local financial support of schools was required at a certain level, the greatest financial and social challenge facing state government leaders - resolution of the funding decision - could be resolved.
We must address the "shame of the suburbs." We must ensure adequate levels of state support for all schools in order to relieve the growing property tax burden, and we must provide a sound basic education to students in our cities. Simply allocating more money to schools will not solve these problems. But, accounting for regional cost differences, recognizing extraordinary educational and social needs, and assuring that all communities share equitably in the cost of their schools will provide a basis of a formula that will ultimately serve as the foundation of reform - eliminating the gap between the "shame" and the "pride" of the suburbs.