By Jessica Bakeman Albany Bureau
ALBANY Per-pupil funding and expenditures in New York schools grew steadily during the 2000s, with local revenues accounting for the largest proportion of most districts' aid, according to a report this week from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The report, with information presented mainly in interactive graphs and maps, shows that certain areas of the state have consistently higher per-pupil funding and spending.
In the North Country, as well as in parts of the Hudson Valley and Long Island, funding and spending exceeded $25,000 per student in 2012, according to the report. That includes aid from federal, state and local sources.
The maps show funding and spending increases throughout the years statewide, with most school districts receiving and spending less than $20,000 per student in 2005 -- in many cases, less than $18,000. Only a handful of districts received and spent more than $25,000 per student, and they're nearly all tiny districts in the North Country, some of which have fewer than 100 students.
Education experts offered various explanations for the growth in funding over the 2000s, pointing to significant increases in state aid before the recession and federal stimulus funds that poured in after.
E.J. McMahon, senior fellow with the Empire Center for New York State Policy, criticized government spending on education, arguing that increasing funding does not yield better educational outcomes.
New York spends more money per pupil on education than any other state, but only three quarters of students graduate high school, and less than half of them are prepared for college or a career.
"When there's money, they spend it," McMahon said, referring to the state Legislature. "And they spend it mainly on K-12 education."
Four small school districts in Dutchess County -- Pine Plains, Northeast, Pawling and Millbrook -- received and spent more than $25,000 last year per student, the report shows. So did nearly all Westchester County school districts, including White Plains, Scarsdale and Bedford. Brewster and Garrison schools in Putnam County also had high funding and expenditure levels.
Addison, Bradford and Avoca school districts in Steuben County received and spent more than $25,000 per student last year, too. Of those, Addison is the only one with more than 1,000 students. The others enrolled fewer than 500 students each last year.
With very few exceptions, schools in Western New York and the Finger Lakes got less per-pupil funding. Most districts received between $14,000 and $17,000 for each student in 2012, according to the map. Victor schools in Ontario County fell into the lowest categories, receiving and spending less than $15,000 per student.
The report also showed a breakdown of schools' funding sources.
Typically, federal funds accounted for the smallest proportion of aid, although aid spiked in 2010.
"Spending was propped up by the federal stimulus aid, which was no favor to anybody, including the schools," McMahon said. "They continued increasing spending to a fairly remarkable degree, even though the bottom was falling out of the tax base."
Local funds often account for the largest share, particularly in more affluent districts. In poorer districts, the state typically picks up most of the tab.
Some districts in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island get more than 85 percent of their funding from local revenues, including Mamaroneck and Rye schools in Westchester County. While much of mid-Hudson Valley gets 60 to 85 percent of its funding locally, Rhinebeck schools in Dutchess County stands out, getting more than 85 percent locally.
Many of Rochester's suburbs receive more than 85 percent of their funding from localities, including Brighton, Webster, Fairport, Pittsford and Penfield.
Rochester's city schools, alternatively, gets far less local funding, but rather gets more than 75 percent from the state.
Corning schools in Steuben County and Vestal schools in Broome County get more than 85 percent of funds from local taxes. However, nearby Elmira schools in Chemung County and Tioga schools in Tioga County each get more than 75 percent of their aid from the state.
School groups stressed that the state must keep up funding to make up for the 2011-adopted property-tax cap, which limits municipalities' ability to raise local revenue.
"Local taxpayers, local communities, made a decision to invest in their schools, raising property taxes to make up for the state's failure to adequately fund public education," said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, a union. "But those property-tax increases, in the eyes of many, became unsustainable."
The cap limits growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. However, the cap has exemptions, such as growth in pension costs, that can push the limit for some school districts above the 2 percent threshold.
Dave Albert, spokesman for the state School Boards Association, said districts are grateful that Gov. Andrew Cuomo increased education funding in recent years, following a series of cuts. Schools received a $1 billion increase in state aid this year.
"It's critically important for the state to continue to provide adequate funding for schools in light of the tax cap," Albert said, "and maybe (we will) get to a point where schools don't have to be so dependent on local property taxes."
To use the interactive maps, visit http://www.newyorkfed.org/regional/school-finance/.