N.Y. Gov. Would Shift State Aid from Rich to Poor Districts

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The plan announced last week by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo to shift some state aid from New York's wealthy districts to its poor ones is expected to meet adamant opposition from suburban areas, but the Governor's aides said the state's budget problems should make such reform harder for legislators to reject.

New York City schools would gain the most--about $100 million--from the proposal, which was included in Governor Cuomo's fiscal 1984 budget. Buffalo and Rochester would also gain. Districts in affluent Nassau and Westchester Counties outside New York City would be the big losers, with a total of $37.8 million in aid cuts.

The state's total education budget would rise slightly under the Cuomo proposal, from $4.56 billion to $4.65 billion.

The Governor submitted the plan two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Levittown v. Nyquist, the long-running school-finance suit in which the plaintiffs charged that the state's reliance on local property taxes puts many poor school districts at a disadvantage.

Mr. Cuomo's plan--more modest than a finance-reform package proposed last year by then-Gov. Hugh L. Carey--would:

Reduce the size of flat grants to districts from $360 to $250 per pupil. Under this provision, the proportion of need-related aid in the state budget would rise.

Change the "save-harmless" provision that guarantees a district at least as much operating aid as it received the previous year. Many districts have maintained state funding levels despite student population declines of as much as 30 percent.

Rather than guaranteeing districts at least 100 percent of the amount of aid they received the previous year, the state would guarantee districts with declining enrollments up to 150 percent of what the formulas determine to be the new need.

Include the average income of families, as well as property values, in the formula that measures a district's wealth.

New York and other large cities such as Buffalo and Rochester have complained that property wealth is an inadequate measurement of a district's ability to finance education because of the high concentration of poor families in "property rich" districts.

Governor Cuomo also proposed giving an additional advantage to poor districts in the form of earlier aid payments, thus reducing their need to borrow to meet operating ex-penses.

If a district relies on state aid for more than half of its operating expenses, the state would give most of its aid in fall and winter; other districts would receive most state aid in the spring.

An aide to State Senate Majority Leader Warren M. Anderson said that the proposal "won't be able to get the votes it needs" in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"From an idealistic point of view, it looks okay," said James R. Ruhl, Mr. Anderson's assistant. "The only objection is that some districts would lose aid."

"The 11th Commandment says, 'Thou shalt not take any money out of a local budget,"' said Daniel P. Levitt, a lawyer for the districts that brought the Levittown suit. "If you follow that, that means you cannot do anything [to redress inequities] until there is a great budget situation."

Joseph P. Wuensch, the assistant director of New York City's Office of Management and Budget doubts the chances of the Cuomo plan. "Frankly, we're all very skeptical that it can pass," Mr. Wuensch said.

But an aide to the Governor said the projected $1.8-billion budget deficit would make legislators realize that the wealthier recipients of state aid must absorb cuts.

"The budget is an overriding problem this year," said Neil J. Foley, assistant secretary to the governor for education and the arts. "The problem with business as usual is that it is going to be very expensive."

Mr. Foley said Governor Cuomo will press harder for the proposals than Mr. Carey did last year. The Governor has already met with groups of legislators and with members of the committees that have jurisdiction over the provisions.

Vol. 02, Issue 20

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