State of the States
Pataki Speech Mostly Mum on New York Finance Case
With New York state facing court-imposed fines for failing to fix its system of financing schools, Gov. George E. Pataki offered no new proposals for school funding in his State of the State Address on Jan 5.
His speech, which opened the state legislative session highlighted his plans to improve public safety, underwrite economic development, and cut taxes. But it did not outline any new approaches to respond to a 2003 order from the state’s highest court to ensure all students in New York City receive a “meaningful high school education.”
In his brief remarks on education in his speech last week, the third-term governor renewed his call to rewrite the state’s K-12 financing formula by reviewing a set of principles he laid out at the start of last year’s legislative session.
“I said [last year] we needed a new formula for a statewide solution for New York City and other high-needs school districts,” the Republican said in his 11th State of the State speech. “I said we must never pit one school district against another. And I said that more dollars must come with sweeping reforms to ensure greater accountability and performance.”
But Mr. Pataki didn’t say how much money he would be willing to provide in making those changes. He is scheduled to outline his spending proposal for fiscal 2006 in a Jan. 18 budget speech.
Democrats in the legislature and school groups said the governor didn’t explain exactly how his changes would satisfy the 2003 court order saying the state had failed to provide a “sound basic education” for the 1.1 million students in New York City.
“A decade of stall tactics aimed at putting off school finance reform is not the legacy you want,” Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the lower house, said in response to the governor’s speech. “I urge you to join the legislature, the board of regents, and all of this state’s education leaders in an education summit now.”
Gov. Pataki’s speech was filled with “warmed-over proposals that have already been rejected by the courts as inadequate,” Timothy G. Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said in a statement. “Given the court order, we would like to have heard more detail in the governor’s address.”
Increase Not Enough
Last year, Mr. Pataki and the legislature passed a fiscal 2005 budget that provided a 5.2 percent increase in school funding, with almost a third of the $751.8 million increase going to the state’s urban schools.
But that wasn’t enough money to comply with the high court’s decision.
The lower-court judge overseeing the case is considering a recommendation from a panel of jurists that he order the state to add $5.63 billion a year to the city’s school budget—a 45 percent increase. The increase should be phased in over four years, the panel told the judge. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Jan. 12, and the judge may rule soon after that hearing. ("N.Y.C. Schools Require Billions, Judge Told," Dec. 8, 2004.)
In his speech, Mr. Pataki stressed that K-12 spending has increased by 55 percent since he took office in 1995.
“New York City alone now gets $2.3 billion a year more than it did a decade ago,” he said, “and New Yorkers now invest over $12,000 per student—more than any state in the nation.”
But he showed a reluctance to increase state spending. By contrast, he highlighted the tax cuts his administration has advocated since he succeeded Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, and he called for further cuts in income and property taxes.
“We’ve proven beyond all doubt how cutting taxes creates jobs and prosperity for our fellow New Yorkers,” Gov. Pataki said. “We’ve done it before, now let’s do it again.”
In a section of his speech on environmental policies, he said that he would propose legislation to require that schools use nontoxic cleaning solutions.
Vol. 24, Issue 18, Pages 19,22