Category Archives: education finance

The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations: A Review

A public chief executive has three jobs: policy, management, and leadership. With leadership being using one’s influence as a public figure, in competition with celebrities and marketing influencers, to change what people voluntarily do on their own, rather than what the government forces them to do or does for them.  For state and local government, the key policy is the budget — who is made to pay how much, and what it is spent on, compared with the past and compared with other places.  Management determines how much in services and benefits people actually get for that spending.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of their tenures feuding.  They would have you believe it was over policy and ideological differences.  I believe their primary ideology is careerism, the advancement of their own careers to higher office, and this made them rivals — and the rest of us and our futures pawns.  Perhaps that’s why both “President” DeBlasio and “President” Cuomo left office widely despised.  

But what did they actually do?  Even as we just had an election for Mayor, and are currently having an election for Governor, the media doesn’t seem to be talking about it, other than issues of the moment such as bail reform.

Most people can’t do it, but one ought to separate what the pols do from the broader situation. DeBlasio and Cuomo didn’t cause the opioid epidemic, the surge in homelessness, or the COVID-19 pandemic, or in Cuomo’s case, the long-term economic decline of Upstate New York.  But they didn’t cause the economic boom and soaring federal debt that allowed them to pander to every special interest group without completely screwing anyone else except transit riders and the later-born (until the future) either.  With regard to the budget, I’ve created some charts that make a fair and perhaps telling comparison.  This post will briefly describe what I plan to do, with additional posts making the comparisons to follow.

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“Affordable” Phonies Make Life Unaffordable for the Serfs

According to Merriam Webster online, affordable means able to be afforded: having a cost that is not too high.  And among New York’s Democrats and progressives there is always talk of having government policies make something affordable:  affordable education, affordable health care, affordable housing, affordable transportation, etc.  And yet observing 40 years of public policy in New York, I can think of only a handful of examples of policies that have actually made life, or a better life, less costly for the public at large.

When one examines the totality of public policies enacted in so-called Blue States, you see that the goal actually seems to be to make many things more expensive.  

Sometimes for reasons I agree with.  A developed country (and I’m not sure ours is) shouldn’t be making goods and services more affordable in the short run by making them more expensive, more dangerous, or more misery-inducing for the community as a whole, in the long run.  That’s what the builders of the “affordable” Surfside condo in Florida did by cheaping out on the building structure.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-the-florida-condo-collapse-rampant-corner-cutting-11629816205?mod=trending_now_news_1

But mostly for reasons that would be impossible to justify if openly admitted.  To make some workers — those who work for the government, or are paid funded by government programs — richer compared other similar workers, at the expense of making those other similar workers pay more and become poorer.  And to make it more expensive to live in politically influential “liberal” communities, ensuring the less well off, their burdens and troubles, will be somewhere else.  The result is hypocrisy.

When Democrats and progressives say “affordable” what they really mean is “subsidized.”  Part of the cost is paid for by someone else, so it seems to be more affordable.  But since fiscal resources are not unlimited, even in New York City where we have the highest state and local tax burden and the most debt, the subsidies for “affordable” health care, education, transportation, housing etc. only end up going to the fortune few.  And many if not most of those few often turn out to be among those were already fortunate.  For the rest, somebody has to pay after all.  Often those who are already burdened by policies to make things more expensive – policies that lead to the need for subsidies to begin with.

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Education in New York: Stop Trying, Stop Lying, Pursue Alternatives

Year after year, deal after deal, the United Federation of Teachers continues to jack up the cost of providing even a decent education for NYC’s children, by ordering its politicians to irrevocably allow them to work fewer years, fewer hours with children, and fewer days, with less accountability, and get paid more for it compared with the people who don’t matter.  No matter how high spending goes, no matter how high taxes go, no matter how much other needs are neglected, no matter what other services are cut, it is never enough.  Even after doubling to a level far above just about anywhere else, as shown in my prior post.

And since that works out so well for them (or at least some of them), and because they have developed such a sense of entitlement that they are completely incapable of enlightened self interest (the belief that in the long run self-interest requires accounting for the needs of other people too), it will never, ever, get any better.

After the 2008 25/55 pension deal for NYC teachers, the last straw and the deal that ended “school reform” in New York, I thought about what could be done for seven years.  

And the title of this post is the formula I came up with.   All you have to do is start with a blank state, without the UFT contract, its repeatedly retroactively enriched pensions (that might have been increased again last night at 3 am in secret but can never then be reduced), the bureaucratic mess coming down from the state under UFT/NYSUT orders, and the Department of EducationEarly Retirement, and you’ll see that for far less money than was spent in NYC in FY 2019 (and vastly less than today) it would be possible to have a class size of 12, with teachers who are paid more in total compensation than the average person who is paying for them.  Like the U.S. health care system, for which we are already paying as much as developed countries do for universal health care, if New York’s school system didn’t already exist no one would dare to suggest it.

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Comparative Public School Spending from FY 1997 to FY 2019: In New York The More They Get, the More They Feel Entitled To, and The Less They Provide in Return

Let’s start this post the way the prior one ended, with the quote from the ACLU, referring to the level of public school funding in New York in FY 2019.

https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/ny-cheating-its-schools-out-billions-dollars

Every year, the government of New York shirks its legal responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled New York was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by not putting enough money into its schools. The court ordered that schools were entitled to $5.5 billion more in unrestricted state funding, known as Foundation Aid….

But year after year, state lawmakers substituted politics for the Foundation Aid Formula, shortchanging schools and hurting students who need the money most.

That is, simply put, not true.  In the 1990s New York City school spending was low, in part because a state school aid formula discriminated against the city’s children.  Judge Leland DeGrasse ordered the city’s school aid to be increased by $1.9 billion, based on the low funding levels of the time.

https://trellis.law/judge/leland.g.degrasse

As a trial judge, he ruled against New York’s system for financing public schools in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State. Ultimately, the decision, which sought to overhaul the state aid-to-education formulas, was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which resulted in an additional $1.9 billion in state aid awarded to New York City schools.

I know this history because I provided data to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the same kind of data that will be discussed below.  Much to my disappointment, however, CFE turned out not to be interested in either fiscal equity or better schools – just a richer deal for those working in the public school system.  So despite another $1.9 billion (and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion) they kept suing. In exchange for political support for his election for Governor, Eliot Spitzer then settled the suit for even more money.  No judge ever ordered it, or found that was what was required. It was a political deal, with a massive increase in pension benefits for teachers as part of the same deal, not better education.

That deal, which multiplied by a bunch of prior retroactive pension increase deals (now starting up yet again), was for me a kind of last straw. So what was the level of school spending in NYC, by category and compared with other places and the past, in FY 2019 when the ACLU claimed that the people of New York were cheating those who worked in education out of $billions?  Read on and find out.

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Census Bureau Public School Finances Data for FY 2019: New York’s Sky High Spending Per Student Is Soaring Further As Enrollment Falls

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual elementary and secondary school finances data for FY 2019 on May 18th2021, and as usual I have downloaded and compiled it.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances/newsroom/updates/fy-2019.html

Anyone else could do the same – any media source, any government agency, any public policy analysis organization, any politician, any candidate for Mayor of New York City or City Council – if they were willing to see what it shows.  And any could send postcards to everyone in New York City with the following information.

In FY 2019, the New York City school district spent $31,578 per student.  That was more than double the U.S. average of $15,569, and higher than the averages of $29,451 for the Downstate NY Suburbs, $22,782 for New Jersey, $19,707 for Massachusetts, and $23,686 for Connecticut.  These are high-wage high-cost of living areas on the Northeast Corridor, but adjusted downward for this factor New York still spent $24,764 per student, still 59.1% higher than the U.S. average and higher than the $23,906 for the Downstate Suburbs, similarly adjusted, and $23,622 for the Upstate Urban Counties.  The average for the Upstate Rural Counties, at $25,058, was slightly higher.  On instructional (ie. teachers) wages, salaries, and benefits alone, the New York City school district spent $18,229 per student.  That is $364,577 per 20 students, and $218,746 per 12 students.

In FY 2019, the people of New York City and State were being sued for underfunding their schools, and cheating their teachers, out of $billions of additional dollars.

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Current Employment Survey Data for 2020: New York City Reduced our Public Services, but Annual Average Local Government Employment Barely Fell – while the Home Health Care Boom Stalled

As noted in my prior post, the release of rebenchmarked annual average Current Employment Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that NYC lost the staggering total of 517,500 private wage and salary jobs from 2019 to 2020, by far the most since at least 1950 and probably the most ever.   On a percentage basis only Hawaii fared worse among U.S. areas of significant size.

More recent data is even worse.  The monthly e-mail from the New York State Department of Labor shows a decrease of 626,800 private sector wage and salary jobs (15.3%) in NYC from February 2020, before the shutdowns, to February 2021.

The annual average data shows that while the sectors that were shut down suffered the steepest job losses, there were significant decreases across all sectors – even health care.  And yet annual average New York City local government employment was just 1,400 (0.3%) lower in 2020 than it had been in 2019.  For state and local government combined the decrease was just 1,600 (0.3%).

Measured from February 2020 to February 2021, the NYC local government employment is down just 4,200 (0.8%), with a decrease of just 600 (0.4%) for elementary and secondary schools – despite falling enrollment.  And Mayor DeBlasio has cut deals with the unions to guarantee no layoffs until half a year into the next Mayor’s term, regardless of circumstances or consequences.

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Census Bureau Education Finances Data: The FY 2018 Data for New York City is Wrong

In the past few years I’ve come across multiple instances when federal data on City of New York expenditures, and only City of New York expenditures, has been incorrect.   Always in a way that make it seem as if those expenditures are lower, public employment per 100,000 people lower, and NYC public workers less well paid than they actually are.  The data affected has been the public employee pension data aggregated by the Census Bureau, population data at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and state and local government earnings data aggregated by the BEA.  At the local level some key information has been eliminated altogether, notably the “full agency cost” table.   I’ve been following the data for decades, and haven’t seen much like it.

Given that I’ve just completed a comprehensive analysis of state and local government finances based largely on the 2017 Census of Governments, I hadn’t planned to re-doing an analysis of education finances for FY 2018. But I decided to check to see if something funky happened to those numbers as well.  It has.  According to data reported to the Census Bureau, the wages and salaries of NYC elementary and secondary school workers were $373 million lower in FY 2018 than they had been in FY 2017, with a reduction of $205.6 million for instructional workers.  I checked around to see if there was something that could explain this. Here is what I found.

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Graphic Summary: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the past six weeks, I’ve posted a series of analyses of state and local government finances using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, starting with the 2017 Census of Governments and including similar data for prior years.  The posts include well over 200 pages of text, 296-plus charts, 25 tables, 34 spreadsheets with that data, those tables and those charts, plus additional spreadsheets. It is the fifth time I have done this, based on the Census of Governments, which comes out every five years.

Did you read them all?

If not, I will now attempt to summarize what the data said about state and local government in New York City compared with the rest of the country, prior to the cornonavirus crisis, with a series of selected charts and a sentence or two each.  Most of the data is for all the governments in a state or county added together, with revenues and expenditures divided by the personal income of everyone in that state or county, to adjust for the relative cost of living and ability to pay. The first post in the series, which includes spreadsheets with revenue and expenditure data on the full scope of state and local government activities, and explains where the data comes from and how it is tabulated, is here.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/background-and-databases-2017-census-of-governments-finance-data/

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State Government Higher Education Expenditures: 2017 Census of Governments Data

In FY 1977, U.S. state and local government institutions of higher education covered just 20.8% of their expenditures on education with tuition and fees.  That figure peaked at 39.2% in FY 2011, and was 35.0% in FY 2017.   On the other hand, fees and charges at auxiliary enterprises at public colleges and universities, including dormitories, food services, book stores, stadiums, camps and conferences, covered more than 100.0% of their costs more often then not up until FY 2004, interest on debts aside. Such enterprises still covered 92.1% of their costs in FY 2011, but covered just 77.0% of their costs in FY 2017.   And that was before the coronavirus ended the presence of students in on-campus housing, and admission revenues at sporting events.

That is just one of the findings from a tabulation of state and local government finances from the 2017 Census of Governments, along with similar data for prior years.  As noted in the prior post on elementary and secondary schools, local governments also operate community colleges in some states, including New York.  For the most part, however, higher education is a state government function.  While Medicaid, mostly paid to private sector health care providers, and elementary and secondary education, consisting of aid to local government schools, are a larger part of state budgets, public colleges and universities employ more actual state workers than any other government function.  A table, charts and a further discussion about public higher education follow.

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Local Government Education Expenditures: 2017 Census of Governments Data

In FY 1972, when a large number of Baby Boomers were still in school, U.S. elementary and secondary school expenditures equaled 4.59% of U.S. residents’ personal income.  That fell to a low of 3.69% of income in FY 1984, after the Boomers exited and enrollment shrunk.  The figure increased to a non-recession (recessions depress income) high of 4.51% of income in FY 2004, when a large share of the Millennials were in school, before falling to around 3.9% of income each year from FY 2014 to FY 2017, after they exited.

New York State, however, has diverged from the pattern.  In New York City elementary and secondary school expenditures were around 5.0% of personal income each year from FY 2013 to FY 2017, actually higher than the 4.3% of personal income in 2004.  The rest of NY State averaged 6.4% of income in FY 2004, but was only modestly lower at just under 6.0% of personal income from FY 2015 to FY 2017.  New York’s elementary and secondary school expenditures were already high, compared with the rest of the country, in FY 2004, but the gap has increased since – despite an economy that has favored NY State in general, and New York City in particular, increasing the personal income that spending is being divided by.

New York’s public school expenditures are now at an extreme, even as the city and state face recession.  Rising pension and retiree health care expenditures, as a result of a long series of retroactive pension increases for teachers, are one key reason.  A high level of public school employment, despite falling enrollment, with the schools used as a job program and source of dues revenues, is another.

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