Syracuse University professor proposes fix for New York’s state educational funding mess
Syracuse University professor proposes fix for New York’s state educational funding messAugust 21, 2001Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
New York state’s system for funding public schools is a mess in the view of John Yinger, Trustee Professor of Public Administration and Economics at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. “There are 50 different formulas to determine state aid,” Yinger says. “Each has its own history, but none has a very clear surface rationale.” This results in funding that is uneven and unfair, he contends.
The New York State Supreme Court ruled in January, in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, that the current educational financing system violates the state constitution. The court called for the design and implementation of a new system.
Yinger has answered that call. In “Fixing New York’s State Education Aid Dinosaur: A Proposal,” a policy brief published by the Education Finance and Accountability Program (EFAP) of the Maxwell School’s Center for Policy Research, he proposes a formula to measure the actual cost to each district of educating its students to a minimum standard, and redirecting state funds to districts where they are needed the most.
Such an approach would take into account factors that make the cost of educating a student vary from district to district, such as the presence of many students with severe disabilities or limited English proficiency. It would also take into account whether the school district was located in a high-wage area, requiring that district to spend more on teachers’ salaries than districts located in more moderate-wage areas.
“This would be an enormous change in the way funding has been allocated,” Yinger says. “The state has never fully acknowledged in any way that some students are more expensive to educate than others.” He points out that New York City has one of the neediest student populations in the state, but that it gets less aid per pupil than the average district.
Yinger acknowledges that putting a formula such as the one he proposes into place would be difficult, especially when it comes to shifting aid away from some districts to help more needy ones. “Under the current formula, a lot of state aid goes to districts that don’t need it as much as others. But what district thinks it has too much money?” he says. “Nevertheless, the state cannot meet the court’s mandate without providing significantly more resources for needy districts.”
Yinger is associate director of the Metropolitan Studies Program and director of EFAP, both located in the Maxwell School’s Center for Policy Research. He has taught at Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. He has served as a senior staff economist for the Council of Economic Advisers and as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and to several state governments.
Yinger has published widely in leading scholarly journals, has co-authored two books on local public finance, and was research director of the 1989 Housing Discrimination Study, which was sponsored by HUD. He has published articles on school finance issues in the National Tax Journal, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management and the Economics of Education Review. His most recent book is “Closed Doors, Opportunities Lost: The Continuing Costs of Housing Discrimination” (Russell Sage Foundation, 1995).
EFAP promotes research, education and debate about fundamental issues in public education in the United States, especially the tax and state programs that fund this system and programs to promote efficiency and accountability in school districts. For more information about EFAP, visit http://cpr.maxwell.syr.edu/efap.