More Kentucky school districts are making the tough decision this year to seek maximum property tax increases allowed by state law —and that’s commendable as they face alarming cuts in state and federal education funds.
Their school board members are voting to approve an annual rate that increases revenue by 4 percent — the maximum allowed under state law without putting the matter before voters — rather than let those funds slip through their fingers.
So far, 81 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts have done just that and more could still do so.
Unfortunately, the Jefferson County Board of Education is not among them, having settled for a smaller increase in August after board members were confronted with an angry and noisy group of anti-tax protesters.
Other districts, ranging from the relatively affluent Oldham County to smaller, rural districts throughout Kentucky, are approving higher rates, The Courier-Journal’s Mike Wynn reported Monday.
Still, that likely won’t be enough to provide what is required by the state Constitution: “An efficient system of common schools.”
Mr. Wynn’s report contained this disturbing prediction from a top education official, Hiren Desai, an associate commissioner for the state Education Department, who was reflecting the views of the state’s school superintendents:
“This is the year to make us or break us.”
That’s because even if districts raise the local property tax they still are sliding further behind from other key funding sources.
The state’s primary funding stream for public schools, Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK, has not been cut but because it has stayed flat as student attendance has increased, the net effect is a decrease. Another state fund that pays for professional development, safe schools, textbooks and other educational resources has been cut from $154 million in 2008 to the current $93 million.
Officials say that restoring those funds alone to the public schools would cost $272 million over the next two budget years, money lawmakers say the state doesn’t have and that most members of the General Assembly show no willingness to obtain.
The anti-tax move has a powerful grip on elected officials from Washington to local communities. But the buck for quality public schools stops somewhere and in Kentucky, it appears to have stopped at the local school districts.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Bucks for schools
This from the Courier-Journal: