State Education Spending Up, Enrollment Down: Study

A study released Tuesday reported that New York public schools have dramatically increased hiring during a period of historic increases in state aid and local property taxes even while enrollment declined.

The report by The Empire Center of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute comes as schools, protected by powerful lobbies, have so far avoided deep cuts during the state's fiscal crisis while warning that a proposed cut of 5 percent would force layoffs that would devastate education.

Underscoring the severity of the fiscal crisis, Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday delayed a $2.1 billion payment to schools usually paid on March 31. The delay will last until sometime before the payment's final due date of June 1. He also suspended hundreds of state construction projects.

Paterson said the delay in school aid, his second since December, is necessary to make sure the state doesn't run out of cash. School lobbyists sued Paterson when he delayed payments in December, warning that a delay in aid could force them to borrow to pay bills and could still trigger layoffs and higher local taxes.

The Empire Center's report said public schools hired nearly 15,000 teachers and almost 9,000 administrators, guidance counselors and other support workers over the last 10 years as enrollment dropped by more than 121,000 students.

The New York State United Teachers union disputed the study, saying thousands of positions vacated by retirement have been eliminated and thousands of teachers this year face possible layoffs. The union also noted that public schools have long been underfunded and many hires are to reduce class sizes under a federal program and a state court order.

"I'm not saying, 'Go ahead and lay them off,'" said the Empire Center's E.J. McMahon. "But this is a system that has not been starved by any definition ... let's get some perspective."

McMahon said large staff cuts at once would be too disruptive. But there are other ways to cut costs, he said, including freezing raises for a year that an assemblyman recently calculated would save $1 billion, almost all of the proposed cut in school aid.

Unlike other areas of state spending, including health care and social services for the poor, school aid protected by the state's powerful teachers unions has escaped deep cuts in the state's two years of fiscal crisis and is in line for a rare restoration of a proposed cut. McMahon called the New York State United Teachers union the most powerful lobbyist in Albany, spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions each year.

Gov. David Paterson has pushed the 5 percent cut in state school aid, which now totals about $21 billion a year. After consecutive years of record aid and local tax increases, most schools have enough reserves to take the hit, he said.

The Empire Center report comes a day after the Legislature gave final approval to a sweetener to encourage teachers to retire early. Also Tuesday, Paterson again blamed the loss of up to $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" education funding on the Legislature, which had refused to enact measures opposed by the teachers unions.

Earlier this week, the New York State United Teachers union refused a request by Democratic Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo to consider voluntarily postponing their raises and automatic step increases in pay this year to avoid layoffs and save $1 billion.

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