In an editorial this morning on Andrew Cuomo’s tax-cap proposal (see background from Peter Meyer here and here), the Gray Lady explains what’s driving education costs skyward and comes out in favor of several bold cost-cutting measures:
Outside New York City, the cost of pensions, health insurance and others benefits for workers has been increasing about 10 percent a year since 1998, according to the State Department of Education. The Legislature over the years has sweetened benefit packages as a way of rewarding teachers or other workers. Mr. Cuomo should push for regional collective bargaining instead of district by district. The goal should be pensions and health care systems for government workers that are more like those in the private sector.
The Legislature enjoys passing laws without giving locals the money to pay for them. Take special education, which at more than $24,000 per student is far more expensive in New York than in most other states. For years, lawmakers have added 257 additional requirements to federal disabilities laws, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Those additions cost local districts extra, mostly for personnel. Mr. Cuomo needs to do a sweep of the extraneous mandates before imposing a tax cap on local communities.
There are too many separate school districts — about 700 ranging from New York City, with 1,100 teachers, to others that have fewer than 200 students. Consolidation could save money and even enhance curriculum.
The formulas for giving out educational funds in New York still fail to recognize that the least well-off districts need more money. The state still sends plenty of money to the public schools on Long Island, including some that are better than private academies, thanks to the rich communities around them. That leaves barely enough for the Bronx or some of the poorer, rural areas upstate.
If you’re keeping score, that means Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and now the New York Times editorial page have all come out in favor of squeezing teacher benefits, slashing regulations (including for special education), and consolidating schools. Keep that in mind this spring when the teachers unions try to paint cost-cutting governors and legislators as right-wing lunatics.