We don’t care how much you spend on education up North

If retirees from New York State (or anyone else) criticize North Carolina’s education system and blame it on the assumption that we don’t spend enough on K-12, listen up. One of the reasons these folks move to Southern states is to escape higher taxes, but government spending in New York is out of control—with education it’s unconscionable.

While visiting our former home area in upstate New York last month, I read a news report by Jessica Bakeman with Gannett News (gannett.com) about education spending. Based on the amount of money spent on it you would think New York State has the best education record in these disparate united states. Think again.

New York spends more per pupil than any other state, but only 75 percent of the students graduate from high school; and get this: less than half of them are prepared for college, or even for work. So, how much do these pathetic results cost taxpayers? Plenty.

Public funding and spending in New York State school districts “grew steadily” during the past dozen years. Most districts spent between $14,000 and $17,000 per student—some spend more than $25,000 per! (For example, during 2012 in the North Country, parts of the Hudson Valley and on Long Island.) And, as a critic with the Empire Center for New York State Policy (affiliated with the Manhattan Institute) put it, “When there’s money (the state legislators) spend it.” Affluent school districts such as Corning in upstate get more than 85 percent of funding locally from property taxes. Poorer districts such as nearby Elmira get more than 75 percent from state aid.

Probably, no political promises get more votes than spending on “education.” Before the current recession state government dumped heaps of cash into the school districts. When state and local taxes shriveled, politicians eagerly accepted federal “stimulus” money to prop up school spending. Eventually, it’s payback time.

Incidentally, data in this news article came from a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. What has the Fed to do with our schools you may ask? Well, public education has become a very ripe political plum. Promises to “help our children” get votes. Education construction and administration is big and expensive. Unions deliver votes for jobs. The Fed has the power to print money and distribute it to public projects (currently about $85 billion a month), euphemistically referred to as “quantitative easing,” or QE. Simply follow the government money and power.

Because of the huge amount of money New York State spends on schools, property taxes are very high. I know that in some upstate New York school districts property taxes on a house similar to ours in Wilmington, N. C. are several times more than the $1200 we pay—37 percent of our tax is spent on local public schools.

In fact, taxes became so oppressive that the Democrat-controlled New York State legislature in 2011 adopted a property tax cap limiting increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation. Even a representative of the New York State United Teachers Union admitted that these taxes were “unsustainable.”

Still, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his state legislators increased school funding by an additional $1 billion this year. Of course, the teacher’s union and School Board Association continue to lobby for more money. A spokesman for the SBA predictably said, “It’s critically important for the state to continue to provide adequate funding for schools.” Yes and no.

It is important that we provide “adequate” funding that will result in better educational results. But it is morally reprehensible to spend more money on school systems that fail to produce properly educated children.

Politicians and education activists pushing more spending like to use the word “investment,” it sounds so enlightened. But they misuse the word. A good investment results in greater value. John Hood, president of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation describes American education as a “low productivity enterprise.” (link)

The average spending per pupil in North Carolina is $9,200, but these figures in no way correlate with learning results—90 percent of the nearly $10 billion education budget (nearly half of our entire State budget) goes to salaries and benefits. Research, however, shows no “consistent relationship” between per pupil spending and student achievement.

Mr. Hood says that it would be foolish of our State leaders to spend with a goal of “being just as bad (investors) in education as the rest of the country is.” Recently, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that will begin to reform our education system. (link) Hood describes some reforms: devolving power to local districts, hiring and paying teachers on merit, and giving parents more affordable choices among competing public and private institutions.

When someone says that we aren’t spending enough on education, he should compare spending with results in other states. Tarheels should follow that prudent advice found on native North Carolina bumper stickers: “We don’t care how you did it up North.”

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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