New state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia met with school adminstrators from around the state Wednesday who had gathered to discuss the new and controversial receivership program that raises the possibility that some of the state’s lowest-performing schools could end up being taken out of local district control and turned over to groups like non-profits or charter operators.
Her remarks to the at-times skeptical local officials were part pep talk and part tough love.
Responding to the oft-voiced complaint that the state’s poor performing schools need more money, she said that she didn’t devise the funding formulas and that school improvement is about more than dollars and cents.
“Money is not the whole deal here,” she said, adding that schools need to look at, tap and coordinate all of the resources in their community including volunteer groups and others not formally part of the education system.
“There have been millions of dollars put into these schools and they are still on that list,” she said of the lowest performing schools, which are dubbed ”struggling” or “persistently struggling.”
Elia may not have devised the funding formulas for school districts but that doesn't mean they're not a huge problem.
Take this 2010 study by Rutgers about school funding in New York:
New York State ranks near the bottom of the country in how fairly it funds its schools, asserts a new Rutgers University report released Tuesday.
Only four other states have a bigger gap between how much money they send to their poorest schools compared with their wealthiest ones, researchers at Rutgers and the Education Law Center in New Jersey found.
"It really gives us pause," said Geri Palast, head of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the group that filed a successful lawsuit in the 1990s to force the state to fund poor schools more equitably.
New York spends more on education overall than most other states, but researchers call its funding methods "regressive."
Wealthy districts rely on high property taxes to fund their schools - a luxury many poor districts do not have.
As a result, in 2008, a New York school district with no poor kids received about $17,000 per student in local and state aid, while one with at least 30% of the students living in poverty got about $14,000 per student.
Or this more recent report from January 2015:
ALBANY — In the opening salvo of what promises to be a heated battle this year over education reform, a new report says funding inequities between poor and rich school districts across the state has reached record levels under Gov. Cuomo - and has soared 43% in New York City.
Overall, schools in poorer districts spent $8,733 per pupil less in 2012 than those from wealthier ones, an inequity that grew by nearly 9% from before Cuomo took office in 2011, according to the study by a coalition of education advocacy groups opposing many of the reforms pushed by Cuomo.
While the 100 wealthiest districts spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student, the report found.
The report, obtained by the Daily News, is set to be released Monday. The coalition includes the Alliance for Quality Education, which is backed by the powerful teachers unions, the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, Opportunity Action, and National Opportunity to Learn.
The inequity gaps were made worse by nearly $400 per pupil, the report says, after Cuomo won a 2% cap on local property tax increases that made it more difficult for needy districts to raise needed money, the report says.
The inequality has made it tougher to attack poor education results in high-need districts, where graduation rates dramatically lag behind those in richer districts, the report says.
But MaryEllen Elia says money isn't the issue with struggling schools.
You know, all the problems can be solved with a little tough love, some volunteers from the community and the firing of entire school staffs.
Hey, NYSUT, how's that collaboration and consensus thing going with MaryEllen Elia?