Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Proposed State Amendment

I have not yet spent much time analyzing the proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution which was brought forward by a 'consortium of education advocates' in January 2007. But it scares me. In short, this proposal claims to reduce the dependence on local property taxes, shift the funding burden to the State of Ohio, and simultaneously provide more funding to the school systems.

Those things all sound good until we remember that every form of tax collected in this state is paid by the same people -- the residents and businesses of Ohio. So if the property taxes WE PAY goes down, the state income taxes WE PAY will go up. Maybe the state sales tax WE PAY will go up as well.

For the people of the Hilliard community, the best possible outcome of this change will be for our total tax burden to stay the same. But that's not likely.

Even though one-third of our funding comes from the State of Ohio, the way the state gets that money in the first place is through OUR income taxes. According to reports distributed by State Representative Larry Wolpert, we in the Hilliard school district get back 59 cents in state funding for every $1 in personal income tax paid to the state. In other words, a large chunk of our tax money is already going to other school districts (Hamilton Local Schools gets $2.30 from the state for every $1 they pay in). The only control we have over how much is collected, and how much we get back, is through the legislative process. In that setting, we of the suburban communities get outvoted by urban and rural districts, who both struggle to fund their schools from a weak tax base. We are seeing the effect of that now, with our state funding holding flat while our district continues to grow.

Please understand that school funding in Ohio is a classic "Robin Hood" taxation system. The districts in weak communities are subsidized by the people in more affluent communities, and Hilliard is seen to be one of the latter. In principle, I have no problem such funding systems. I willingly pay my state income tax, knowing that a good-sized chunk of that money will end up in a district that needs it.

The other two-thirds of our school funding comes from our local community. We get to decide how much money we want to spend on our school system through the tax levies that are placed on the ballot as needed. I like that. It means that to get more money, the officials of the school district need to make the case to the voters in our community that the additional tax is warranted.

The people backing this amendment want to change that. They would like the bulk of the school funding to come through state channels, doled out by state-level officials and not a matter for local control. The minimum amount the local district would be required to collect through property taxes would be set to 20 mills (about half the current rate in Hilliard). However, districts would be free to put additional levies before their local voters to provide funding in excess of the state minimum. I think that means the state will tax us more, give us less, but yet give us the opportunity to tax ourselves even more to keep our district funding the same.

Our own school officials are in support of this new amendment proposal. Superintendent Dale McVey is is currently the Chairman of the Alliance for School Funding (see his Oct 2006 State of the Schools address), which advocates reducing the reliance on local property taxes levies for funding schools -- a position right in line with this amendment proposal.

This new plan needs lots of analysis and discussion (see what the Columbus Dispatch has to say). We need to understand how it differs from the current system. Note that the main problem with the current system is that the state doesn't fund it adequately, not that the formula is wrong. What will cause the state to fund this system any better?

No comments:

Post a Comment