Ticket to Nowhere

Pataki Court Decision Cites Schools as Track to Service Careers

The Pataki court was responding to the state's expert witnesses, who were collectively paid nearly $1 million dollars. They constructed mathematical models that purported to show that smaller class sizes, better facilities, and even certified teachers had no significant impact on achievement "after controlling for socioeconomic factors." Once demography was made determinative, the state brief argued that "deficiencies in student performance attributable to socioeconomic conditions are not relevant to assessing whether schools are meeting constitutional standards."

Whatever funding shortfall exists, the state lawyers and the appellate judges agreed, is at the city level. Though Pataki joined in stripping the city of the commuter tax, as well as prevailing on Mayor Bloomberg not to increase taxes, his lawyers in this case actually contended that the city is undertaxed. Their brief identified an $841 million annual "loss" the schools were suffering because the city "didn't tax itself at the state median tax rate."

In the aftermath of the decision, Pataki has tried to pretend that the inequities of the formula are old news, resolved by recent aid increases to the city. He's also repeated his call that the legislature do something about a formula he began deriding as a "dinosaur" at the same moment that he filed the appeal to protect it. He hasn't done anything himself but blab, submitting a budget this year that maintained the formula. Indeed, the state budget office's estimates for the last year covered by the lawsuit—1999-2000—revealed that the city got $225 million less than the statewide aid average, without factoring in the much higher costs here.

The very week of the decision, the governor was heard once again spouting "world-class education" rhetoric. His State of the State addresses have been filled with statements like: "In every aspect of our educational system, we must set the highest standards for student success, and settle for nothing less." Yet since this case was filed, 600,000 students have finished their NYC school careers, 240,000 of them without a diploma. To defend allocations that reward GOP upstate and suburban strongholds, Pataki's lawyers have even been willing to salute this system as "one of the best" in any American city. Like the aspirational standards this decision sets for our young, it's about as low as a governor can go.

Research assistance: Jen DiMascio, Chris Heaney, Matteen R. Mokalla, Nate Schweber, and Emily Weinstein

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