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Politicians, Judges, and City Schools

Politicians, Judges, and City Schools: Reforming School Finance in New York

Joel S. Berke
Margaret E. Goertz
Richard J. Coley
with the assistance of Thomas A. Ciano
Copyright Date: 1984
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Politicians, Judges, and City Schools
    Book Description:

    During the 1970s, a nationwide school finance reform movement-fueled by litigation challenging the constitutionality of state education funding laws-brought significant changes to the way many states finance their public elementary and secondary school systems. School finance reform poses difficult philosophical questions: what is the meaning ofequalityin educational opportunity and ofequityin the distribution of tax burdens? But it also involves enormous financial complexity (for example, dividing resources among competing special programs) and political risk (such as balancing local control with the need for statewide parity).

    For those states (like New York) that were slow to make changes a new decade has brought new constraints and complications. Sluggish economic growth, taxpayer revolts, reductions in federal aid, all affect education revenues. And the current concern with educational excellence may obscure the needs of the poor and educationally disadvantaged.

    This book will provide New York's policy makers and other concerned specialists with a better understanding of the political, economic, and equity issues underlying the school finance reform debate. It details existing inequities, evaluates current financing formulas, and presents options for change. Most important, for all those concerned with education and public policy in New York and elsewhere, it offers a masterful assessment of the trade-offs involved in developing reform programs that balance the conflicting demands of resource equalization, political feasibility, and fiscal responsibility.

    "Synthesizes the political and fiscal research [on school finance reform] and applies it to the New York Context....A blueprint for how to redesign state school finance....A fine book." -Public Administration Review

    "This is a book that lucidly discusses the issues in school finance and provides valuable reference material." -American Political Science Review

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-047-9
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
    Margaret E. Goertz and Richard J. Coley
  6. INTRODUCTION The Background for Reform
    (pp. 1-28)

    During the decade of the 1970s, major changes occurred in the way that states finance their public elementary and secondary education systems. Twenty-eight states enacted new or revised education aid programs,¹ state education expenditures nearly tripled,² and the state education policy-making arena widened as legislators, governors, and groups representing minority, urban, and business interests joined traditional education interests in shaping new school finance formulas. These changes were the end product of a nationwide school finance reform movement: one initiated by legal scholars; supported by a network of researchers, lawyers, public advocacy groups, and national organizations; and fueled by litigation that...

  7. CHAPTER I Levittown v. Nyquist: Setting the Agenda for Reform
    (pp. 29-56)

    In June 1974, Levittown and twenty-six other school districts filed suit in State Supreme Court claiming that the New York system of financing public education was unconstitutional. These districts, which included rural communities such as Knox Memorial in St. Lawrence County, small upstate cities such as Schenectady, and the city of Buffalo, shared certain critical characteristics: low or moderate tax bases, above-average tax effort, but below-average expenditure levels.¹ They were, in short, classic victims of the failure of a nominally equalizing state aid system to overcome the effect of disparities in property wealth. Several months later, four of the state’s...

  8. CHAPTER II Political Factors Affecting Reform
    (pp. 57-80)

    Litigation is a starting point, not an end point, for reform. This is particularly apparent in the area of school finance where court decisions identify objectionable effects of the existing legislation without prescribing mechanisms for overcoming the problems. Design of the new school aid law is left to the state legislature, that is, to the political process. Thus, the strategy of turning to the courts to escape the inadequacy of legislative action cannot avoid an eventual return to the traditional political arena, albeit armed with a court order.

    In such circumstances, and in many where the judiciary was not involved,...

  9. CHAPTER III The Economic Environment for Reform
    (pp. 81-112)

    Developing a school finance reform program requires an awareness of the resources that are currently available, and will be available in the future, to fund such an effort. In the past, state legislatures could draw on surplus revenues generated by rapidly growing economies and/or the federal revenue-sharing program to fund reform plans. Most states, including New York, do not have that luxury today. Federal aid is declining, growth rates are dropping, and greater competition exists for the state dollar. This chapter examines the economic, fiscal, and demographic changes which have taken place in New York State over the last twenty...

  10. CHAPTER IV New York State Education Aid Policy: The Formulas and Their Impact
    (pp. 113-134)

    TheLevittownv.Nyquistlitigation documented basic inequities in New York’s system of financing education in 1974–75: School districts in New York State differed significantly in how much they invested in the education of their children; districts with the greatest educational needs did not necessarily spend more than districts with lesser educational needs; and the wealth of a child’s parents and neighbors often determined the amount of money spent on his or her education. The data presented in this chapter show that these inequities persist into the 1980s. The chapter also describes the rationale and operation of the New...

  11. CHAPTER V Measuring Fiscal Capacity and Tax Effort in Urban School Districts
    (pp. 135-154)

    Since the development of the earliest school aid formulas, the capacity of local districts to raise revenues for education (fiscal capacity) has been defined as property wealth per pupil. New York State has included some form of property valuation as the primary determinant of relative school district wealth in its school equalization aid formula for more than fifty years. The use of this measure, which is also the primary measure of fiscal capacity in state education aid formulas in over forty other states, reflects local government’s reliance on the property tax and the stability of this tax base over time....

  12. CHAPTER VI The Finance and Provision of Special-Needs Programs
    (pp. 155-180)

    Explicit in theLevittownlitigation and implicit in the objectives of New York State education policy within the last several decades has been the philosophy that sufficient resources should be available to school districts to meet the special educational needs of their students. While there is far from reasonable agreement on effective special educational strategies, and even less agreement on the costs involved in such treatment, there is consistent judgment that special-needs children cost more to educate than “normal” children.

    New York State has a variety of special finance provisions in its school aid formula to help school districts provide...

  13. CHAPTER VII Options for Reform: The Building Blocks
    (pp. 181-204)

    Previous chapters demonstrated that the distribution of educational resources in New York State does not measure up to the equity standards that emerged from theLevittownlitigation. The resources available for the education of the state’s children are dependent, to a significant degree, on the wealth of the school districts in which those children reside, and there is a lack of correspondence between the severity of special student needs and the resources available to meet those needs. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the building blocks of a school aid program as the first step toward devising a...

  14. CHAPTER VIII Options for Reform: A Prototype and Its Implications
    (pp. 205-232)

    As policy-makers in New York pursue the goal of school finance reform, they must realistically balance a complex equity, political, and economic agenda. First, and foremost, they must change the distribution of educational resources so that neither the lack of wealth nor the unique educational and fiscal problems that affect the state’s large cities lessen the educational opportunities available to a community’s school children. This change in resource distribution, however, must be accomplished against a backdrop of status quo politics and economic retrenchment.

    In this chapter we construct a reform school finance system from the many alternatives available to policy-makers...

  15. APPENDIX A Mathematical Explanation of New York State Education Aid Formulas
    (pp. 233-238)
  16. APPENDIX B The Basic Prototype Formula
    (pp. 239-240)
  17. APPENDIX C Prototype Formula: Stage 2
    (pp. 241-244)
  18. APPENDIX D Prototype Formula: Stage 3
    (pp. 245-248)
  19. APPENDIX E Simulation of School District Expenditures
    (pp. 249-250)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-262)
  21. Index
    (pp. 263-279)