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May 13, 2012

School-funding debate gets divisive

Even a cursory perusal of the newspaper's Letters to the Editor reminds us of one thing. It's school budget and board election time again.

We have for four years now witnessed the division of national politics. We now see divisions hardening within our communities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo produced a feat many thought impossible. After years of institutionalized budget increases for schools, he knocked some legislative heads together and produced a 2 percent cap on increases in school taxes.

There are some modifiers, which can result in a higher rate if there are certain capital projects that must be funded or a lower effective cap than 2 percent in other cases where there may be some payments in lieu of taxes.

However, the overwhelming number of school boards across this state managed to cobble together budgets that respected the caps. Only the rare boards proposed budgets in excess. Some of those districts are in our region.

Such school boards offer arguments that have little to do with public finance or economics. Board members appeal to our love of our children and to the fact that a 5 percent tax increase still amounts to less than the cost of a beer or deluxe cup of coffee every day. The emotional argument goes something like this: Isn't the education of our children worth a cup of coffee?

Of course. Taxpayers in New York already spend more per child than the residents of any other state, or for that matter, more than the average spending per child in any other country. I believe many of us would pay even more if we were convinced the additional expenditure guaranteed our children a rich education that would ensure their success.

But the issue is not the cost of a cup of coffee.

What the proponents of additional education spending fail to articulate is the value proposition. They have not convinced taxpayers that the highest level of education spending in this state, and across the globe, is buying the best education.

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