Author Archives: larrylittlefield

About larrylittlefield

A blogger on state and local government and related issues in Brooklyn NY.

Public School Finance Over Two Decades, in NYC And Elsewhere, Based on Census Bureau Data: Anyone Remember “School Reform”?

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.

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Census of Governments FY 2017: Public Education Finance Data for New York, New Jersey, the U.S. and Selected Other States & Areas

The U.S. Census Bureau released its FY 2017 public education finance data for school districts across the country on May 21st.

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/school-spending.html

Of the 50 states, New York ($23,091), the District of Columbia ($21,974), Connecticut ($19,322), New Jersey ($18,920) and Vermont ($18,290) spent the most per pupil in 2017.  Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were New York City School District in New York ($25,199), Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292), Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184), Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109), and Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921).

As is the case most years, I’ve downloaded this data and compiled it into tables showing per student revenues and expenditures by category for New York, New Jersey, and nearby states, four sections of New York State (New York City, the Downstate Suburbs, Upstate Urban Counties and the Rest of NY State), the U.S. average and other places that interest me.  And every individual school district in New York and New Jersey.   And since this is a Census of Governments year, when the Bureau will later be compiling data on every function of every state and local government in the country, I’ve done exactly the same compilation for FY 2007 and FY 1997, to make comparisons over time possible.

As is my custom, I’ve going to provide an explanation of where the data comes from and how it was compiled, and make the spreadsheets with the data, tables and charts available for download, in this post.  Before providing my take on it later, after I’ve thought about it for a while.   So open-minded and curious people (all three or four of you, apparently) are able to download the spreadsheets, look at the numbers and charts, and make up your own mind, rather than having me tell you what it means.  Moreover, I certainly won’t be writing about every individual school district in New York and New Jersey.  But the data is provided in such a way that anyone else can write about their own.

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Retirement Benefits Are to White Collar Crime and Generational Inequity What Handguns Are to Street Crime

Red State, Blue State, Democrats, Republicans, anti-tax advocates, public unions, public sector, private sector, federal, state and local and even in Europe.  Retirement and old age benefits are promises about the far off future, allowing any and all to use them as a tool to rip people off and make a getaway before the heist is discovered.  At the state and local government level, all over the U.S., one finds the generations now retired or about to retire promised themselves far more than they had been willing to pay for, leading to crises of various kinds. But always there is the assumption that the older generations that created the problem and benefitted from it can’t participate in sacrifices needed to prevent disaster.

The first response is always the union-friendly choice to drastically cut the pay and benefits of new hires, in order to offset the soaring cost of benefits for those cashing in and moving out.  Screwing the millennials as part of the “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” cycle that goes on and on.  “If you don’t like it, don’t take the job; take some other job that also pays 25 percent less than the Baby Boomers were paid for the same work,” as Federal Reserve Bank of New York research has shown.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/playing-catch-up-in-the-game-of-life-millennials-approach-middle-age-in-crisis-11558290908

But when that isn’t enough, the next proposal is a “pension freeze.” Middle-aged workers, now mostly the last of the Boomers in those in Generation X, get to keep the pension benefits they have earned so far, but are not allowed to accrue any new benefits at the rate they were promised.  They are allowed to contribute to a 401K instead.  “If you don’t like it, quit and take another job for 15 or 20 percent less than most Boomers and members of the Silent Generation were paid, if someone will hire you.”

That’s fair, isn’t?  No it is not!

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DeBlasio’s New York City Budget: Defunding The MTA Capital Plan, Planning for A Federal (and State) Teacher Pension Bailout

I looked through the Message of the Mayor publication for the City’s of New York’s April budget proposal and financial plan, and came upon a couple disappointing and unfair parts of the proposal.

https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-19.pdf

First, on page 87, I found that the financial plan now includes line items for federal and state funding specifically for New York City teacher pensions. Not for education.  Not for the pensions of other public employees. Not for retirement of the vast majority of city residents who don’t have pensions and have little or nothing in retirement benefits at all, and would end up paying for this in higher federal and state taxes and cuts in services and benefits.  Teacher pensions.  Currently the amount of money in those lines is zero, but the budget lines were added for a reason.  Whatever Bill DeBlasio may say about what he will do for the rest of us if elected President or (if he drops that idea) Governor, just understand how he plans to get the Democratic nomination.  By promising to take even more from everyone else and give it to the teacher’s union, over and above what they have already taken, in exchange for money and support.

Second, on page 59, I find that city capital funding for mass transit, at $485 million in FY 2019, is proposed to be cut to $136 million in 2020, $54 million in 2021, and $40 million per year thereafter.  Presumably the $485 million was the money for the MTA Cuomo badgered DeBlasio to put up and match with state funds, after 25 years of little if any city or state contribution the MTA capital plan — and soaring MTA debts.  And now?  Looks like frenemies DeBlasio and Cuomo have a new plan.  Cut $1 billion in actual budgeted money for the MTA Capital plan between them, add $1 billion in congestion pricing revenue, but then bond against all those future congestion pricing revenues and spend them in just five years, before leaving the MTA with no money to maintain the system thereafter.

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Put A Solar Roof on the Sunnyside Yard, Not Another Subsidized Development

I’m not a big fan of grid-scale solar energy.  The human load on the planet comes down to four things, in order of damage. 1) Non-renewable energy use; 2) The transformation of the surface of the planet for our own use, from urban development to farming to strip mine fishing; 3) The concentrated organic load of our excretions, and those of our domesticated animals; and 4) The aggregation of certain materials into toxic concentrations.  Grid scale solar helps with number one, but makes number two worse.

Last week, however, I read about the MTA planning to expand solar panels to areas I do approve of – rooftops.

https://ny.curbed.com/2019/4/23/18511589/mta-nyc-transit-leases-rooftop-solar-power-profits

These are areas that are already covered by human-created structures, and thus no loss.  The goal is for the MTA to make some money by leasing out the roofs of the structures it owns.   But that got me thinking.

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Changes in NYC & U.S. Median Earnings and Income: The Generational War Has Been Going On For Decades

I was surprised to read an article in which the New York Times, of all publications, broke Omerta with regard to generational trends in society.

For Americans under the age of 40, the 21st century has resembled one long recession.  I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, given that the economy has now been growing for almost a decade. But the truth is that younger Americans have not benefited much…This loss of dynamism hurts millennials and the younger Generation Z, even as baby boomers are often doing O.K. Because the layoff rate has declined since 2000, most older workers have been able to hold on to their jobs. For those who are retired, their income — through a combination of Social Security and 401(k)’s — still outpaces inflation on average.

The Times included a couple of charts, which I’ll show below, along with a bunch more of my own.  But two comments on the article are worth noting up front.

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