Big disparity in education funding

Area educators and school officials could get a harsh lesson in New York state finances if they closely follow what’s happening to State University of New York institutions. Earlier this month, the new chancellor of the SUNY system — Kristina M. Johnson — spoke to a group of staff and students in the Science Center at SUNY Fredonia.

Unsurprisingly, funding from the state to the State University of New York was one of the questions Johnson fielded. Since 2008, aid to SUNY schools has been dwindling.

Johnson noted this is not just a problem for institutions of higher learning in New York, but also Colorado. In New York, she said support for SUNY is about 30 percent of its budget — or 20 percent more than Colorado’s support of 10 percent.

“That has been a story that has played out across the country,” Johnson said.

But that 30 percent could be considered too high for SUNY Fredonia. Some estimates have found state support to be less than 20 percent for the local campus.

It’s a much different story on the public-school side, which leads to underperforming districts in many cases. Those schools that are the smallest in terms of enrollment are often the richest when it comes to receiving state dollars. Take Ripley schools, for instance, with around 300 students. Currently in a tuitioning agreement with Chautauqua Lake, its district receives nearly 75 percent of its revenue from state aid for its $9 million budget.

Larger schools, with Dunkirk having the greatest population in our region, receive around 55 percent in state aid of its $43 million budget.

Since the fall, SUNY Fredonia has seen a positive turn in its enrollment figures. That will help its bottom line that has faced deficits in recent years.

Area schools, however, will never feel a pinch — or a reason to consolidate — as long as aid figures range from 55 percent to 75 percent.