Forcing cash-strapped school districts to buy pricey new calculators for every sixth grade student just doesn't add up.
At least according to North Fork Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, R-Shoreham, who would like to see a moratorium on all unfunded state mandates that he believes are crippling local school districts.
Calculators, for example: Losquadro is seeing red over a new mandate that will require districts to have enough calculators onhand for all 6th grade students to take standardized state tests. Until recently, schools were mandated by the New York State Education Department to have enough calculators for only 7th and 8th grades -- but now, 6th grades have been added.
"It's time the state held the line," Losquadro said. "There can't be any more mandates without commensurate funding. The calculators are just a clear example -- they came out of the blue."
Many parents, Losquadro said, already buy their children calculators. "This is where the great paradox comes in," he said. But despite the fact that many students have their own, all school districts across New York State are now required to have enough calculators onhand to meet the needs of every student in grades 6 through 8 on testing days.
While the measure might be necessary in impoverished areas in New York State, Losquadro takes issue with the "blanket" mandate that compels districts to spend funds that might otherwise be used for areas, such as staffing or student services, where the need is great, especially in light of the looming 2 percent tax levy cap that has sent many districts scrambling for solutions.
Brian Mills, member of the Riverhead Republican Committee, applauded Losquadro's commitment to standing up for parents and residents, and addressing unfunded mandates. "For far too long, teachers have had to pay for craft supplies and other items out of their own pockets, while a bloated state government refuses to pay for its own ‘bright ideas,’ leaving local property owners to sign the receipts when they pay their school tax bills," he said.
Mills questioned whether local taxpayers should have to "foot the bill" for calculators 6th graders might use only once, during the standardized math test. "The pencil pushers up in Albany have been acting like nosy neighbors for far too long -- all too happy to tell you how to live your life, but never there to pay for any of their well-intended schemes," Mills said. "Teachers are on the firing line every time school tax bills come out."
When good ideas become unfunded mandates, Mills said, local school taxpayers lose.
"School districts are really doing a good job paring back," Losquadro said. "But there are still a lot of areas where they are required to spend money." Of the calculator mandate, he added, "To just throw this out there, almost as an afterthought, in the middle of this terrible financial situation school districts are in, is clearly illustrative of the disconnect."
One amendment Losquadro offered on the floor of the New York State Assembly recenly, asking that additional costs for mandated teacher evaluations should be absorbed by the state, did not pass.
But Losquadro is determined to tackle the issue; he recently drafted legislation calling for the move to block new mandates and require that any new state mandates come hand in hand with commensurate funding. "This is not something radical," he said. "This is just common sense."
Otherwise, he said, students are the ones that will suffer, as programming, staff, and extras, such as field trips, continue to be slashed from school budgets.
Losquadro remembers fondly a class field trip he took as a student to Albany, to see the state capitol. "I still have my picture with Senator Kenneth P. LaValle; it's hanging in my office," he said. Field trips are important to a student's overall development, he said. "It's about building the total person."