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OpinionEditorial

How best to pay for education in New York State?

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When it comes to K-12 public education, does more money matter, and how should the state of New York divvy up the pie?

When it comes to state colleges, who ought to pay, the students or the taxpayers? Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a plan Tuesday to provide free tuition to every state college student from a household earning less than $125,000 annually. That set off demands by private colleges that said their students also should get aid, while some opponents argued the plan is too expensive and others said it is not expansive enough.

As state budget discussions approach, it looks like funding for education at all levels will be at high-octane levels of controversy.

At the end of 2016, the New York Board of Regents recommended a $2.1 billion increase to education funding, up 8 percent. Most of that increase would go to “foundation aid” distributed according to wealth and need. And other proposed changes would drive even more money to districts that get less from property taxes and away from the more affluent systems that abound on Long Island.

But the Regents, a very politically sensitive group, also want the new funding method to “hold harmless,” guaranteeing that even wealthy districts’ state funding will not actually go down. In response to the Regents plan, the Citizens Budget Commission, a New York City-based advocacy group, suggested the state should cut off all education aid to the wealthiest districts and give it to the poorest.

This all comes as the issue of funding K-12 education, particularly in poorer districts, is reaching a boiling point. Judges are ruling poor schools must get more funding, while voters and politicians are fighting for local interests. And it comes on the heels of two recent studies that seem to tell us that more money spent on education means better results. According to a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research in July, states that send more money to low-income districts see significantly more improvement than states that don’t. Another study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that for low-income students born between 1955 and 1985, a 10 percent increase in spending led to wages 10 percent higher, less poverty and half a year of additional schooling completed on average.

What does this mean in New York, where per-pupil spending is already 87 percent above the national average, and on Long Island, where per-student spending is often among the highest in the state? What will it mean politically if attempts by the state to fund poorer schools come at the expense of richer ones? And when will schools begin to change how they operate, from adding technology and efficiency to instituting longer school days and shorter vacations, to improve outcomes without breaking the bank?

Evidence is mounting that not properly educating students in less-wealthy districts is a truly unaffordable mistake. But diverting a fortune from the high-wealth districts and taxpayers that fund so much of the state budget to higher-need districts is politically unworkable. The fix to funding K-12 and college education will require changing how our schools are run, and how we understand our shared responsibility to give all children a great education. — The editorial board

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