This editorial was first published in the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, New York), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.

 

Almost lost in the early-session activity of the state Legislature is an item that makes up only a small part of the billions that will be coming to local schools yet has the potential to make the biggest impact on the lives of students, which is what should be the top priority for all concerned with the issue.

Legislators need to study what has been going on in New York City, where pre-kindergarten programs have expanded rapidly with adequate funding, and find a way to duplicate that success throughout the state.

That would be one more step toward what should be the ultimate goal of our state education system, assuring that every student in every district in the state has the same opportunity to receive an appropriate education.

There are several education-related issues on various agendas in Albany that are likely to see action before the concept and funding of pre-kindergarten efforts gets the attention it deserves. One is the tax cap, the decision made several years ago by legislators responding to complaints about ever-increasing property taxes. Schools said they needed to keep on with such increases in part because of requirements that were imposed from Albany with no or at least inadequate funding to implement them.

Taxpayers like the cap because it has worked, it has kept the increase in property taxes for schools at about the rate of inflation because that is what determines the cap. Schools do not like it because it limits the amount they can spend at a time when they have little control over many of the expenses that are in the budget.

Another item that has a substantial effect on the ability of all districts to provide the education that students deserve is Foundation Aid, an amount that is hard to pin down. The notion behind it is simple, a desire to make sure that schools get enough money to provide for an adequate education. But depending on who you ask, whether that is the governor, members of the Board of Regents, legislators or educators, you will get many different answers. Some believe that the formula itself is flawed. Some believe that the formula makes sense but has not been implemented or enforced. Some say that schools have not received what they should and that the state owes them more.

It would be nice to say that legislators should clean up that bureaucratic mess but it is unlikely even with unified party control because it has come not from political differences but from some others that have more of an impact, the clashes between schools with more or fewer resources, the conflicts between large and small districts, between those in different regions with legislative delegations with different amounts of influence.

While it would be nice to settle the dispute over Foundation Aid, it would be even more beneficial for students if legislators could agree on the one change that would have an immediate impact, mandatory pre-kindergarten programs with adequate funding.

There is no doubt that students who get such attention early in their school lives do better in school and in life.