Friday, May 23, 2008

Zero Sum Funding

When a guy runs for office as the "Education Mayor" you'd tend to think that things wouldn't devolve the way they have in New York in the last few weeks. For those of you who don't read anything, the nation (as well as the states and cities in it) are facing a bit of a tough time coming up. Budgets are going to be tight and spending is almost certainly going to have to be cut. That's where things start getting interesting education-wise in New York.

A few years ago, a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a huge victory. The gist of it is that the state needed to do more to fund schools in New York City. After that landmark decision, both the state and the city pledged to fund the schools at certain levels over the next several years.

Enter the budget cuts.

The minute things got bad both the state and city started looking at cutting education spending. This naturally set off a political firestorm as no one really wants to see school spending reduced. The state legislature, seeing which way the wind was blowing, reversed itself and will now be funding city education at the level that it had promised. So all eyes turn to Bloomberg, who is defiantly not increasing the amount he'd indicated.

(Where it gets complicated is that spending will increase over the next fiscal year, but not as much as promised. Given the increases in the prices of food, gas, and everything else, though, the increase the mayor is currently proposing really just holds the schools even in an actual dollars sense.)

So after weeks of the Mayor saying he wasn't going to increase the amount of spending in schools, the Chancellor released a statement yesterday that just strikes a chill in me for how intentionally divisive it is. As reported in the New York Times, the Chancellor is claiming that the "good" schools in New York City are going to take a disproportionate cut in funding because state mandate (remember the CFE lawsuit) says that certain levels of funding need to go to underserved and low performing schools.

This is a disgusting tactic. It is clearly an attempt to play parents off against one another. Those with kids who go to good schools are going to feel cheated by their own success. Those in bad schools are going to have to deal with those resentments. The kicker of all this is (in the words of Governor Paterson), "If the City were not reducing its own promised spending for schools, it would have sufficient money to balance funds for other schools if it chose to do so."

In other words, Mayor Bloomberg is trying to set parents against each other because he doesn't want to have to pay what he said he would for schools.

The other point that's important to note here is that it makes sense to increase funding for the highest needs schools. Yes, every child needs to learn. However, some need more help than others. As has been drilled into me repeatedly: fair not everyone being treated equally, fair is everyone getting what they need. Clearly higher needs schools have greater needs.

It's a shame that the Mayor has tried to turn this into a zero sum game where the gains of one school are the loss of another. I can think of very little that he could do that would do more to set back the efforts of creating educational equality in the city. Coming from the "Education Mayor" that's just inexcusable.

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