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Foundation Aid equals economic aid

Foundation Aid equals economic aid

Funding poor school districts is an investment in local economies

Maybe all those parents and citizens groups and school officials have been going about this Foundation Aid thing the wrong way.

They've been approaching the need to provide adequate funding for poor school districts as an educational issue.

They've been trying to sell stingy state lawmakers on the premise that students, particularly those in poor school districts like Schenectady, Amsterdam and Gloversville, need additional school funding to overcome social, racial and socio-economic problems.

They've been pitching the need for more Foundation Aid as the need to help struggling kids learn to read and do math and graduate from high school and live better lives.

That's all well and good. But it doesn't seem to be resonating where it counts — in the state capitol.

Maybe it's time to approach this from a different direction. Instead of playing the education card, they should be pitching this aid in terms the governor and the Legislature seem to prefer — as economic development aid.

Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature love economic development. If you tell them the money will somehow spur economic development, they'll hurt their wrists writing you a check.

Just look at the billions of dollars the state spends on regional contests to see which areas can come up with the best economic development plans. They not only offer tax breaks to new businesses, but they roll in cash for sewer repairs and bike paths and parks — stuff people actually want and need. Why not education?

On Tuesday, two groups met separately with our editorial board — the Alliance for Quality Education, a group of local residents fighting for more educational funding, and the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, a regional business group trying to help area economies thrive.

Both coincidentally used the phrase, "A rising tide lifts all boats," to stress the need for competitive tax rates and quality schools as a way to drive economic prosperity.

Restoring Foundation Aid won't just help kids. It'll help the economies in the cities served by the schools that receive it.

Kids who grow up without a proper education become a drain on taxpayers. They place demands on social services. They commit crimes. Communities with bad schools and high taxes and old infrastructure drive economic development away. People move into places with good schools and avoid those without them. People in poor cities don't buy goods and services. They don't pay sales tax and property tax.

But improve educational opportunities for kids and provide funding to offset high taxes, and watch a community turn around. Build a strong educational foundation and the state won't have to offer billions in businesses tax breaks. It won't have to spend tax dollars to help cities tear down zombie properties and hire more cops. It won't have to pay to support people who otherwise could be working in decent-paying jobs.

Thus, education aid becomes economic development aid.

Our schools need their fair share of Foundation Aid. But the standard argument about improving education for education's sake is falling on deaf ears in Albany.

It's time to speak in a language our state officials understand.

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