Remember school reform? The idea that funding for public schools, in New York City and across the country, would be increased, and in return the kind of education those schools were expected to provide would rise as well, even for poor and disadvantaged students. “No child left behind.” Republicans such as George W. Bush were in favor, but so were Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama. But nobody talks about it anymore, and for good reason. In New York City, and some places like it, the schools – and the teachers union — grabbed vastly more money, but once that was locked in they rejected any increased expectations, or any expectations at all, and have since demanded still more money. In some other states anti-tax politicians reversed higher school funding, though not completely, and left the quality of education lower than it had been decades ago.
Nationwide the reversal was driven by three trends. Since FY 2007, with the children of the Baby Boomers (aka the Millennials) exiting school, public school enrollment has been falling in many places, and barely increasing nationwide. So the only generation that matters, the Baby Boomers, wants money and attention shifted to other things — even as the schools and the politicians they support, in places like Upstate NY, want more money funneled through the increasing empty schools as a jobs and retirement program. Throughout their adulthood, this generation either failed to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, or retroactively increased those pensions to benefit the generations cashing in and moving out – themselves. As a result much of the increase in school funding per student that did occur actually went to retired school employees, rather than to the classroom. All this came to a head with the Great Recession, followed by a perpetual fiscal crisis across the country. One associated with falling tax burdens in some places, but rising tax burdens in New York. School reform is over across the country, but in New York City it was probably a fraud to start with.