Friday, April 07, 2006

Who dreams this stuff up?

Have you ever tried to understand state aid to education? I mean, really try to understand how it works, how the dollars are allocated up in Albany?

I'm the first one to admit that I'm no math wiz — never was. When it comes to numbers, I'm downright challenged. Over the last several days, I've had the unenviable task of trying to make heads or tails out of the state education aid our local school districts can expect to receive under the budget plan approved by the state legislature last week.

About the only thing I can say with certainty is that I don't blame our local school superintendents one bit for saying they're not willing to draw any conclusions yet about the revenue that may — or may not — flow downstate from our capital.

Here's the list of state education aid categories from the "2006-07 State Aid Projections" published by the state education department: flex aid; supplemental ENA; limited English proficiency enrollment adjustment aid; full-day K conversion; tax limitation; BOCES & special services,; excess cost; building & building reorganization incentive; transportation; hardware & technology; software, library & textbook; universal prekindergarten; early grade class-size reduction; teacher support aid; and — my personal favorite — sound basic education aid.

In addition to these categories of aid, this year we have supplemental universal pre-K aid; additional universal prekindergarten aid; high tax aid and EXCEL, which stands for "expanding our children's education and learning."

Presumably each category comes with its own unique formula for distributing the state largesse, or why else would there be different categories?

What does it all mean? Fear not, the state education department publishes a cheat sheet to "explain" these categories and how aid under each is calculated. This little pearl contains statements such as the following:

"Flex aid is the sum of: (1) Tier 1 Flex Aid which is the sum of 2004-05 Comprehensive Operating, Extraordinary Needs, Educationally Related Support Services, Limited English Proficiency, Summer School and Maintenance and Repair Aids; (2) Tier 2 Flex Aid, which is Flex Selected TAPU multiplied by the sum of $6 and the result of $55 multiplied by the Geographic Cost of Education Index-based cost adjustment multiplied by the aid ratio (1.37 - 1.10* Flex CWR), maximum .90, minimum .05); and ..."

This only represents about one-third of the "explanation" of what Flex Aid is. I couldn't bear to copy any more. And remember, Flex Aid is just one component of the total state aid picture.

What sadistic mind (no doubt belonging to a government bureaucrat) dreams up formulas like these? Can anyone really explain them, including the state legislators who theoretically adopt them or the school officials who must live with them?
Or are they all, as I suspect, a smoke screen for what really goes on up in Albany during budget season: the leaders of the Assembly and Senate sit down with the governor and carve up the pie. All the wordy explanations, bordering on double talk, exist just to confuse the rest of us into thinking there is a method in their madness. But we know better now, don't we?