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State proposal to report spending per school provokes debate

Advocates say the switch would give an easier way to compare per-student spending, but educators say the paperwork would be an enormous task.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for the state's largest districts, including Brentwood and Hempstead, to show how money is distributed to individual schools. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A state proposal requiring school systems to report spending on a building-by-building basis has education experts arguing over whether that would promote greater fairness or simply drown districts in paperwork.

Until now, district spending under state and federal law has been reported mostly on a systemwide basis.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for the state’s largest districts, including Brentwood and Hempstead on Long Island, to show how money is distributed to individual schools. The proposal is part of the governor’s annual budget, released last week.

Advocates say that reporting per-student spending school-by-school would give parents and others an easy means of making comparisons. Proponents such as Education Trust New York, a Manhattan-based advocacy group, also say this approach would address suspicions that schools in poorer neighborhoods might not be getting their fair share of financial support.

Local school administrators, however, object that the task of determining what portion of a districtwide program goes to an individual school — special education, for instance — could be enormously time-consuming.

“We have eight schools, so the amount of work this entails — that could be an enormous amount of paperwork,” said Richard Loeschner, the Brentwood superintendent.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia took note of such objections Monday during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters.

Elia agreed on the need to help poor schools. She added, though, that she had heard concerns expressed over the possibility that authorities in Albany might tell some distant school that “you can’t do something with your budget.”

Cuomo’s plan would require 15 districts across the state to submit detailed annual plans, showing how much they planned to spend in each school. Funding figures would be accompanied by student demographic data.

The state’s Education Department and Division of the Budget would review proposed funding distribution, and any district where the plan was not approved would be denied its annual increase in state aid.

New York City and four other systems would be required to submit plans for the 2018-19 school year. An additional 10 districts, including Brentwood and Hempstead, would have to provide plans in 2019-20.

School-by-school financial reports in some form appear likely, whether Cuomo wins legislative approval of his particular plan or not.

Congress already has implanted such a reporting requirement in its school funding statute, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law in 2015.

Washington’s measure, unlike Cuomo’s initiative, would not give government authorities a veto over local school spending. But it does mandate school-by-school spending reports and would apply to public schools nationwide when it takes effect. The expected start date is Dec. 31, 2019.

One rationale for such reporting rules is that schools in more affluent neighborhoods may enjoy higher funding levels than schools in poorer neighborhoods, even if all the schools are part of the same system.

Consider, for example, a large urban school district where contract provisions allow teachers to choose which schools they work in, based on seniority. In such cases, any migration of senior teachers who are paid higher salaries to schools in richer areas would inevitably tip funding in favor of those schools.

A major backer of school-by-school reporting is Education Trust New York. The agency focuses on the educations of impoverished urban students, particularly minorities.

In a report issued last week in tandem with Cuomo’s budget message, Education Trust contended that a lesser share of state and local funding might be going to “the schools that enroll the most historically underserved student populations.”

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