Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Us, Them

In my posting last week "In case things were not bad enough" I mentioned that a large meeting of Catholic school parents had taken place, protesting a cut in reimbursements for state mandated services. A bit of the comment thread got heated. The gist was can/should frum Jews threaten enrollment in the public school system as a means of attaining the funds coming to them. The idea is not a new one. What is new, however, is the one thing that commenters overlooked, and I admit I did as well.

Our SI newspaper gave a lot of coverage to the meeting and that coverage has continued throughout the week. The editorial today was about the Catholic parents' meeting, and the editorial came out 100% behind the parents. Comments in the paper and on the paper's website were pouring in all week. Not so incidentally many of those commenting were parents of children in the Catholic school system. Unlike when Jewish parents have floated the idea of mass registration in the public schools among themselves only, the Catholic parents took the idea public. Local elected officials were at that meeting and are introducing legislation to try and get things put back the way they were before the Governor took the scissors to the budget.

But there were also comments from parents whose children are presently in public school, and those parents believed that the state needed to pay or promise to pay the reimbursements to the private schools. As one parent said: "The state is being penny wise and dollar foolish. Our local schools are filled to capacity. Where would we put even a few dozen more students? And what if that was hundreds more or thousands more? Is the state really willing to put all of our kids at educational risk for the few dollars that private schools have coming to them?" As another parent commented: "The private schools save the state over seven billion dollars a year. Why is the governor putting us all in the position of having to suddenly pay out that kind of money if those private school students register in the public system?"

The newspaper reported that there are some 500,000 plus students in private schools in New York. (Note: the state Board of Ed reports that there are 440,000 for this school year out of a total of 3,123,000 students in K through 12, representing 14.1% of the student population**. This conflicts with a statement by the State Attorney General's Office that there are 500,000 plus students. Nice to know that the right hand and left hand of government aren't agreeing.) By far the largest number of students are those in the Catholic school system. Yes, there are parents in that system who are talking about registering their children in public school to force the issue if legislation to restore the cut funding does not happen. But these parents are being backed up by their school administrators. That's right; the administrators are talking about mass public school registration.

Obviously the various dioceses would not like to see their students disappear for good. But if I am reading the comments correctly, and I believe I am, they believe that a mass registration in the public school system would illustrate why the state should not be fooling around with the mandated reimbursements better than anything else available (again, this to be the case if promised legislation does not pass the legislature).

Here in SI there are over 10,000 students in the Catholic school system. If even 1/10 of those students suddenly registered in public school they would overwhelm our already crowded schools, and such registration is a distinct possibility. If 2/10 registered the system would find itself unable to function at all. Now imagine if all these students registered in public school.

The official representing the diocese was asking that all parents with children in private schools join them in first, pushing that the legislation being introduced be passed and second, should such legislation not be passed, in considering a mass registration in the public schools.

It's clear from what I have been reading that the Catholic diocese is NOT considering closing down its school system and that is public knowledge. They are not attempting to fool the state into thinking that all those Catholic students are going to be permanent additions to the public schools. They are "merely" considering making a valid point and illustrating to the state why this is one area where the state will save no money by cutting down on payments. A Lutheran school in the community has already said that it would join with the Catholic school system if such a registration becomes "necessary." One of the largest private schools in our area has also said that it would consider joining such a mass registration protest because it would be a good lesson to its students on civic responsibility and how the democratic process works.

So I'm asking, what will be/should be the response on the part of those with children in yeshivas if the Catholic school parents stage a mass public school registration? Will we let them carry the ball or will at least some of us join in? Okay, some people don't want to be the first ones to do something like this. But what if someone else is organizing and giving the "party"? Will yeshiva parents attend?

Note: Trudy, on the last posting, asked how much money the reduction in reimbursement actually is. The reimbursements run in the $60-100+ range per student, depending on the grade of the students. Let's use a maximum $100 figure and the State's 440,000 private school students figure from above. That would mean that the state has to reimburse the private schools yearly to the tune of $44 million dollars. A 17% reduction would mean a savings to the state of $7.5 million dollars. No, it's not chump change. But look at this next figure to put it into perspective. It costs the state in the $50-100 range PER CHILD to get them processed and registered in a public school. If "only" 10,000 new students were registered in the public school system it would cost the state one million dollars to register them and then an additional $15-16K per year to educate them--a total cost of $151 million dollars. Those 10,000 students represent only about 2.5% of the total private school students and is more than possible. (And this is not calculating how much money it would cost in administrative fees to re-process the students should they decide to return to their private schools.) How many students would it take to wipe out the 17% savings the state is trying for now? 500 students. Yes, only 500 more students registering in the public school system would wipe out any gain to the state. And I would be very surprised if those students aren't going to be registering. Yeshiva parents are not the only ones feeling the pinch of tuition.

**I teach my students to approach statistics cautiously. The State Board of Ed has been showing a decline in school registrations from the 2000-2001 school year through the year 2008-2009. They are showing this decline for both public schools and private schools. Private schools went from 495,738 to 440,000. What we do know is that two demographic groups consistently have large family sizes: frum Jews and religious Catholics. These two groups have been steadily adding to the numbers of students enrolled in private schools. We also know that the majority of immigrants of Latino background are Catholic and will opt for Catholic school education when possible. Looking at the State's figures it would seem that general private school attendance may be shrinking. I don't think you can make that claim for the religious schools.


Anonymous said...

I think the answer to why the state put in the cuts is in your posting--" only 500 more students registering in the public school system would wipe out any gain to the state. And I would be very surprised if those students aren't going to be registering. Yeshiva parents are not the only ones feeling the pinch of tuition."

I would think that at least 500 students from the private school system are going to end up in public school this year because their parents just can't afford the tuition any more. And I think that the state probably knows this. The cuts in reimbursement just happen to cover the cost of educating these 500 kids? I don't think that was an accidental figure that the state came up with. And if more than 500 kids leave private school and go to the public schools? I can see the state cutting the reimbursement even more to cover the cost of the extra kids.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is why all the fuss about what is really a very small amount of money to any one school. If $100 is the maximum per student in the school, then a school with 1000 students is getting no more then $100,000 in reimbursements and possibly less if they fall in the $60 per student category. A reduction to 83% means that the school will not be getting $17,000 back from the state. If $17,000 (the cost of one or two full tuitions) is a make or break figure for the school then there is a lot more wrong in their budgets then their not getting the reimbursements. For schools with smaller registrations the amount is even less. Plenty of yeshivas with only 200-300 kids in them. At 200 students they are only going to be getting $3400 less from the state at maximum. Is it really worth it to make such a huge public outcry for this amount of money?

Anonymous said...

There are costs to the private school parents and the private schools associated with this strategy. There are lost wages from time lost from work to complete the registration (the BoE is not open nights and Sundays). I don't know about NY, but in NJ the transferring private school is supposed to provide a transfer card or letter to prove attendance and current grade level before the registration is processed. (The registration can't be blocked if this can't be obtained, but its absence may delay the processing of the registration).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tuvi for the breakdown. It does seem kind of funny that the catholic schools would pick a fight over what is not all that much money. Our local yeshiva has only 225 kids in it and most fall in the lower amount paid. At most we are talking about a couple of thousand dollars they aren't going to get. I imagine that the notices and the organizing expenses for a mass registration would eat up a lot more then what is going to come back from the state. I'm not sure this is a principle worth fighting over.

mlevin said...

All those administrators working in PS are salaried employees. They are not being paid by the hour. So, if 1000 new students register at local PS it will not cost state more money. (I know there is an additional cost paper and ink, but otherwise it's free).

If these students will end up attending PS, (unless there is an influx of students and not just 1000 spread around the state) the state will not feel the difference. What one or two extra kids per school. There is room and teachers already in place. It's not like we're talking the whole BoroPark suddenly registering for PS.

So, it is in the state's interest to cut reimbursments. Whether it's legal or a right thing to do is a different story.

Orthonomics said...

I agree with mlevin. It is a pet peeve of mine when average costs are used to make an accounting.

You can't just multiple average cost by number of new students to make a determination.

Dave said...

It appears that a big part of the Governor's plan is to eliminate the CAP entirely.

No CAP, no need to reimburse the schools for the "expense" of the full attendance accounting.

I put "expense" in quotes, because the protests coming from some of the schools about this make me think that the CAP has to be a profit center for them. If the reimbursement only covered costs, there would be no difference between CAP and reimbursement, and no-CAP no reimbursement.