On Tuesday (May 15th) New Yorkers across the state voted on school budgets for their local districts.  Remember that 92 percent of all proposed budgets stayed within the tax cap.  Overall, 96 percent of those budgets passed.  This is all good news, though some would have you think otherwise.

NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) President Richard Iannuzzi said, “New Yorkers see their public schools are doing a terrific job, producing excellent results amid budgetary challenges resulting from the undemocratic tax cap and from the state’s failure to invest in public schools.”  He’s right, these budgets show that our schools are doing a terrific job, and making life more affordable for taxpayers.  But to say that the tax cap is “undemocratic” and that there’s not enough funding is just a bold faced lie. 

How can the tax cap be undemocratic when we get to vote on it?  A democracy is a form of government in which all citizens together determine public policy.  I’d say getting to vote covers that.  Not to mention that schools are allowed to override the cap if 60 percent of the vote says they can.  You see?  There is a democratic choice involved in whether districts even have to abide by the cap.  But we can’t afford more taxes in New York State, and voters have made that clear in this year’s budget vote.  The tax cap is not undemocratic, not under any normal person’s definition.  It’s just that voters don’t agree with NYSUT.

I know Mr. Iannuzzi fully understands that New York spends more per student than any other state in the country and yet our results do not reflect that spending.  If you spend the most, then you should be the best.  No questions asked.  So funding is not the problem in our schools.  The problem comes from mandates and contracts that funnel finances away from district needs.  It’s not about how much money our schools get, it’s about how they use that money.  The problem is schools cannot self determine how best to spend their budgets, even when they get a passing vote. 

How are schools told to spend their money?  We’ve covered that extensively in our posts on Let New York Work.  Union leaders need to face the same fiscal reality taxpayers live with every day.  If Mr. Iannuzzi and his leadership team are so dedicated to children and their education, why are they not coming to the table to negotiate new contracts?  They should be at the table helping the districts to keep teachers employed and class sizes small.  The money, OUR money, needs to work in the best interest of the students.

The tax cap was not created to cut schools off at the knees.  We all want a quality education for our children, and we are willing to pay for it.  But people should learn a lesson.  Taxpayers are willing to fund a quality education, but they are not willing to overpay districts because of unfunded mandates and union demands.  It’s supposed to be about New York’s students.  That’s where taxpayers expect their money to go.  When asked to override the cap, voters exercised their democratic right and responded as they should: voting no and sending schools back to the table to sharpen their pencils.