School funding: too much or too little?

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Plenty has been written about the deep cuts in staffing that school districts are planning to make this spring. Predictably the U.S. Congress is voicing its profound concern. Early this month, Senator Tom Harkin(D-IA) introduced a bill calling for $23 billion of new federal money, in order to buy another year's grace so districts aren't forced to lay off teachers. Weighing in as well is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who may be getting quite used to handing out large sums of money. He expressed strong support for some sort of federal aid. More likely though, we've seen the end to such federal largesse, with the public mood for bailouts of any sort on the decline.

There's no doubt that cuts will wreak havoc on some schools. There's also no doubt that those making the cuts will make some appallingly bad choices about who and what gets cut. But let it also be said that some schools might not implode on the spot should trimming be necessary.

Look, for example, to New York State, where even more than teaching staff, school district staff has ballooned in the past ten years. A recent bulletin published by the Empire Center for New York State Policy notes that in the last ten years, enrollment in New York state public schools dropped by more than 4 percent, while the number of teachers increased by nearly 7 percent and administrators and support staff increased by 26 percent.

New York City appears responsible for more than half the state's new hires. While the student population dropped by 6 percent, the number of teachers increased by nearly 11 percent and the number of non-teaching staff by 39 percent.