Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and school district officials from Bemus Point to Yorktown would have you believe the next several weeks are a critical time for school districts.
But when you think about it, nothing has really changed for the past six months.
Back in April, we all knew the state budget was as fake as a three dollar bill. School budgets approved locally based on those state aid figures and their overly optimistic promises are similarly fraudulent. We knew in April that federal aid would be necessary for those budget figures to mean anything and that without federal aid serious cuts would be needed.
Cuomo said in April that federal aid would be necessary, but there was never a real plan for what happened if that aid didn’t materialize other than the oft-spoken yet useless guidance to prepare for cuts. In the absence of that federal money, local school districts who wouldn’t exist without New York state’s millions of dollars each year are now begging the federal government to bail them out.
We’ve written recently about the lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., that has allowed the state and local budget mess to metasticize this way. Yet, where is the leadership in Albany and even locally to chart a new course? It’s non-existent.
The state has nibbled around the edges of a new direction for education by talking about pathways to graduation or a renewed emphasis on science and math, but hasn’t taken the type of bold steps needed to right-size education for the economic situation we find ourselves in every 8-10 years. We’ve seen acronyms and new educational fads come and go, but the high cost and sluggish performance stay the same. As a result, we continue pouring money into a bottomless pit of an educational system that continues to struggle to prepare far too many children for college or a career. Local voters have often voted against cost-saving mergers when given the opportunity, and the state has never taken the bull by the horns to either force consolidations or make it easier for voters to consolidate districts. The amount of money all levels of government spend on education is far too high and has been for decades, yet all we hear from the education establishment is that more money is all that’s needed to solve our problems.
If money is truly at the root of our education problems, we say again that the state and local school districts must be at the forefront of spending taxpayer money in the most cost-effective manner possible. That means fewer school districts. That means fundamentally changing the structure of education in New York state in ways that haven’t been talked about since the 1950s. COVID-19 was an opportunity to make these changes. Instead, we clung to the old ways of doing things while throwing some money and technology at the problem.
Now it’s too late. We will either receive federal funding to balance our budgets or muddle through the 20% state aid cuts the same way we have in the past. Let’s finally learn our lesson, though, and remake education in New York state so that when the next crisis hits, our state is prepared.
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