State & Local
Taxes Pay for More than 90%
I saw a chart that showed that federal funding for local K-12 schools has
really not increased all that much in our area. Local funding has gone up quite
a bit, but it's had nowhere near the explosion that we've seen in state taxes
that are flowing in to our schools. What's up with all this statewide funding
of what are supposed to be locally-run public schools?
History happened, and equity is important. Federal funding
of local public schools is now at 9.1% nationally, according to the National
Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. It's far more in
states with large pockets of poverty, such as Mississippi, since helping
disadvantaged children learn is the mission of federal educational involvement.
(See chart in today's Homework, below)
When we had "white flight" from urban school districts in
the 1960s and '70s, we left them with much less property valuation per student
than they used to have. But these two words define school finance issues today:
adequacy and equity. Revenues must be enough to provide a constitutionally-sound
level of education for each student, and educational opportunity must be
equitable from place to place.
To try to equalize this, state legislatures and, increasingly,
state courts have decreed that states must adopt the "Robin Hood" style of
That means state lawmakers are supposed to "take from the
rich" - suburban and rural taxpayers - and "give to the poor" - mostly
inner-city school districts, in an attempt to equalize the amount of revenue
that a student has access to, no matter where he or she lives in the state.
Naturally, there has been a lot of controversy over these categorical
funds, weighted formulas and sliding scales, and most everybody feels cheated
or slighted in some form or another. Then there's the whole spectre of
homeschooling, which spends a minute fraction per pupil of public schools but
whose students do better on all measurements. And then there are the
faith-based private schools, whose students also do better for far less than
the public schools spend, and for tougher-to-teach student populations as well.
But gradually, you can see the ratio of funding beginning to
shift away from local tax sources --- chiefly property taxes - and more to
statewide sources, chiefly sales and income taxes.
Also in the mix are newfangled revenue sources, including
lottery revenues, casino revenues, NGO (non-government organization) funding,
user fees, private donations, and many more.
Once the U.S. Department of Education was created in the
1960s, its mission was also to try to equalize educational opportunity for
disadvantaged children and youth. And so came the federal subsidized lunch
program, the Title I remedial program for disadvantaged students, special
education funding, and much more.
Basically, conservatives and moderates want to keep property
taxes as a major revenue source because they are more stable and predictable than
other taxes and fee sources. With politics in the mix, some districts have seen
a huge variance in the amounts of state aid to education which they receive
from one year to the next. That makes planning a nightmare. Also, property
taxes are thought to be much more recession-sensitive than other funding
sources. Note, too, that online spending is currently unrealizable as tax
revenue, and "sin taxes" are controversial in terms of ethics, for many
Meanwhile, while social liberals prefer a shift toward
statewide funding sources, and economists can make a fairly good case for that,
even though in Hawaii, the state with no local funding revenues for schools,
there's one of the highest rates in the country for private-school enrollment
because of a lack of perceived quality in the state-funded schools. For those
who want more information on state funding sources, see:
Homework: Here's a state-by-state look at the
ratios of local, state and federal tax revenues for K-12 education from the
National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education: