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Archive for Sunday, November 6, 2011

School funds

The governor’s plan to significantly shift the responsibility for school funding to local taxpayers may be cause for concern.

November 6, 2011

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The Kansas State Board of Education will get its first official look Tuesday at plans to revamp the state’s school finance formula.

Indications are that board members — and local taxpayers across the state — may be concerned by what they see.

Board members are scheduled to meet Tuesday with Landon Fulmer, Gov. Sam Brownback’s policy director, to talk about school finance. More details of the plan likely will be revealed at that meeting, but news reports based on interviews with Fulmer earlier this month offer a broad picture of what the administration is planning.

The proposal will include setting a new baseline (presumably lower) for state aid, giving district block grants and letting counties vote on a special sales tax for education. The state cap on local option budgets funded by local property taxes would be eliminated. The state would continue to levy a 20-mill property tax for schools, and would put a portion of that money in a state account, from which it could be distributed to equalize funding for districts with low property valuations.

Equalizing school funding for districts across the state was a key aspect of the current school finance formula, which was initiated in 1992. How well the new formula meets that goal will be of particular interest to the state courts, which seem likely to get involved in the school finance deliberations before all is said and done.

Of particular interest to local taxpayers is what looks like a significant policy shift that will give far more school funding responsibility to local governments. In some districts that’s not all bad, but for others, it could be devastating. It all depends on how much local taxpayers are willing to add to their tax bills to offset the state funding that has been lost. The state’s proposal apparently will offer two ways to do that: Without a state cap, districts can raise local property taxes as much as they dare to cover their operating costs; or they can ask voters to approve a local sales tax to support public schools.

Either way, local taxpayers will pay more.

Most Kansas counties — as well as many of the major cities in those counties — already levy local sales taxes of up to 2.25 percent. However, there’s a vast difference in how much money is collected by those taxes. A sales tax for schools would work well for Johnson County, which received $105 million in receipts on its 1.225 percent sales tax last year — much of that money from shoppers who don’t live in the county. The story is much different in, for instance, Cheyenne County in northwest Kansas, which received just $510,000 in revenue from its 2 percent sales tax last year. Eight of the nine counties in Kansas that have local sales taxes of 2 percent or more, have populations less than 7,000 and no cities that attract significant retail traffic. Even with some state subsidies, how high would those counties have to raise their sales tax or property tax to provide adequately for their schools?

Giving cities and counties more authority to raise money for schools allows communities that want and can afford to commit additional money to do so. However, it raises some real concerns about providing equal public education opportunities throughout the state and putting more pressure on local property and sales taxes, which fall disproportionately on lower-income residents.

Reduced state funding has forced school districts across the state to make many difficult financial decisions in recent years. Now that state tax revenues are rising, it would be too bad to make any changes that would make the funding situation for public schools worse instead of better.

Comments

dinglesmith 2 years, 5 months ago

The cap on local funding of schools should have been eliminated years ago. I don't get why a locality that wants to support education should ever be prevented from doing so. I do get that Cheyenne County does not have the tax base of Johnson County. However, our state is moving to a fee-for-service model, away from a shared-responsibility model. Love it or hate it, that's where we're headed in all aspects of state government. If you didn't know your vote for Brownback and friends would take us that direction, no amount of state funding for schools will ever help you. What confuses me is that counties hurt most by this are the same counties where Brownback's support is strongest.

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lgrant 2 years, 5 months ago

Another way for Brownback to lessen the state's responsibility to its citizens. Think SRS. "Suitable" is a key word in school funding and needs to be addressed. Eliminating the cap on the local option budget would not create an atmosphere of quality education for all Kansas kids which is in the best interest of the state. Some kid in Cheyenne County could have the potential to make significant steps in the medical field but due to the lack of funding for her education, could well be stymied in that endeavor by receiving a mediocre vs challenging education. Seems like more of the "I got mine, to hell with you" BS.

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Peter Macfarlane 2 years, 5 months ago

In this case the word "equal" or "equal education" means equal opportunity for education. Brownback's plan will only increase the disparity between rich and poor economies in the state.

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cato_the_elder 2 years, 5 months ago

The mistake was made in 1992 when the school finance formula was changed by the legislature simply because of the preliminary views of one state district court judge. There is no way to guarantee an "equal education" for every child in Kansas. You can't even do that within one classroom in one school building, no matter how much money you have. To say that any child isn't receiving an "equal education" solely because of money flies in the face of common sense, because there are too many outside variables. How often do you hear those in public education blame poor test scores on factors outside of the classroom over which they have no control, a point on which they are absolutely right? Moreover, just look at KU - every year there are hundreds of kids who come here from wealthy Johnson County schools who don't make it past one year, much less complete their degrees.

Give back to local school districts as much local control as possible so that they can determine how much money to allocate to public education and how to allocate the money they have. If some parents don't like what's being done locally and feel strongly enough about it, they can move. Parents these days do that all the time for reasons related to education, including extracurricular activities.

The foolish notion that the State has to control public education funding in order to attempt to provide "equal" public education environments for all K-12 Kansas students results from a serious misreading of the Kansas Constitution, which requires only "suitable" funding for public education, and is completely lacking in common sense.

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Jackie Jackasserson 2 years, 5 months ago

So, his plan to repopulate rural Kansas was just a farce? Because who is going to move there when the few goods available are overtaxed and the education system is poorer due to less funding?

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Steve Jacob 2 years, 5 months ago

Hard to get to upset about it when you knew before electing Brownback this was going to happen. With all the budget cuts the last few years, I welcome the idea. The way Lawrence is, we will have the best school district in the state, because we always seem to vote for higher taxes.

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