Friday, September 26, 2008

Erie County Executive Collins: Right and wrong at the same time

The issues are just too fast and furious lately - but this one had me falling out of my chair. Check out Collins comments on the burden of unfunded mandates from the State in this Buffalo News article.

Collins statement as it relates to preschool services is excruciatingly correct - although I am not sure if his solution really solves the problem. The article states:

"Besides Medicaid — the local costs for which eat up all the $200 million in revenues raised by property taxes in Erie County— Collins cited as among the unfair mandates a program that provides special services for children younger than 5 who need help to get ready for going to school.

He said the county pays the costs of the program — $23 million a year — but has no authority in running a program administered by local school districts. When children turn 5 and schools have to then pick up the costs, Collins said, pupils are “miraculously cured” and no longer offered the services."

This is oh so true, but the preschool/UPK advocates will correctly point to numerous studies that demonstrate the benefit of providing this kind of programming and how it provides long term educational benefits.

But there is something more interesting to watch - see how politicians duck their heads and hope no one sees why all the preschoolers who had problems are suddenly declassified once the responsibility for payment slides back onto local school tax rolls.

I guess it is easier to spread the pain, point fingers, and have a broadly distributed and partially state subsidized tax pay for these programs. No one wants that pain when it starts to exclusively and specifically impact the local property tax rate.

In the end it boils down to a moral issue: do we want to provide these programs for children and do we think that we get enough benefit for the money spent? If we believe in the positive outcomes then the investment is worth the cost - no matter what politician's budget it lands in.

Or do we allow the politicians to tell us that it is not worth the cost - not based on any measured outcome but rather because they are afraid that the cost of the program on their budgets will jeopardize their chances of re-election?

And to think that people have the mistaken idea that these decisions on who gets how much service has anything to do with the welfare of children or the creation of a functional educational system!

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