How about “0.5% for the Kids” so we can preserve our local communties. If we increase the income tax 0.5% and hardwire the extra $1Billion for distribution on a per child per district basis so that all benefit, we can make it possible to fund our schools AND make it possible for our local communities to provide property tax relief. Those least able to afford overrides would benefit, and communities would then have the ability to manage their budgets and set their priorities locally.
I posted this as a reply to the Governor’s Chief of Staff. Folks replying encouraged me to post this as its own post. This problem deserves more than the band aids proposed by the Governor; and if ignored puts. The following is the position paper we presented to Project Readiness. We asked for a meeting with them and they said no. It was not and is not an open process.
(If you agree with this, go to the Chapter 70 Coalition page on the My Issues Section of www.devalpatrick.com and vote in favor of the issues.)
Please review the paper and make your voice heard.
Education Funding White Paper
Across the Commonwealth, our local communities are facing the perennial struggle to fund their local schools while retaining diversity and affordable property taxes. Despite increases in state funding over the past 2 years, many communities find themselves spending less on education today on a per child basis, than they did 5 or even 15 years ago. This is hard to fathom, and is a reflection of 3 factors: an increase in students without a corresponding increase in the property tax base; inadequate and in many cases inequitable distribution of state funding to cover increasing state mandated special education costs; and inflation driven largely by health insurance and energy costs. Repetitive overrides are increasingly common and cannot be a permanent solution. In many communities, property taxes are now well above 10% and even approach 25% of income for seniors and those least able to afford them. If we want to retain public schools as the core of our education system, we cannot continue to reduce spending per child. If action is not taken soon, many of our excellent schools will decline at a time when we also need to keep education strong in order to drive the state economic engine and to improve and enhance our underperforming districts. If we let that happen, parents who can afford it will remove their children from their public schools and support for funding at the local and state level will further erode. This is the elephant in the room that remains undetected by the Governor, his Project Readiness Team, and many in the legislature. Is this the future we desire?
In 1993, Massachusetts, under order from the Supreme Judicial Court, adopted education reform and enacted Chapter 70 of the Mass General Laws. Chapter 70 fixed a serious problem. At that time, the property tax provided an even larger share of funding for schools. As a result, many less wealthy communities could not fund an adequate education. Chapter 70 created a state funded program to distribute aid to under-funded districts based on their needs and their ability to pay. A floor was established for all communities at a relatively low level to provide some funding for state mandates, which were quite limited at that time. Today, many communities spend 10 times more on special education than in 1993, representing in many communities almost a third of their education budget, without a corresponding increase in Chapter 70 aid.
The Department of Education reports that in 1993, low income districts funded their schools at $5250 per child, while high income districts funded their schools at $5640 per child. FY09 funding proposes state aid for low income districts at levels of over $10,000 per child and total spending per child of over $11,000. In towns like Chelmsford, Harvard and Littleton, the proposed state aid ranges from $1400-1900 per child and these towns make up the difference with property taxes of up to $6800 for a total spend per child of $8200-8400. Reflecting upon these numbers, two things are apparent. The higher income communities spend less per child than underperforming districts, as they probably should, given the challenges in under-funded districts. However, higher income communities, with less commercial district revenue and inequitable Chapter 70 aid, have increasingly limited taxation room due to substantial increases in their local tax burden; particularly for seniors, farmers and those with lesser incomes who have tax bills that may exceed 10% to 25% or more of their incomes.
Because the Chapter 70 formula was created from a snapshot of assumptions in 1993, it is outdated and allocates state aid among similar communities differently. For example, Acton/Boxboro, a community geographically close and similar socio-economically to Harvard, is slotted to receive $2330 per child — almost $1000 per child more than Harvard. This difference represents $1.2MM in state aid to Harvard – more than an amount equivalent to Harvard’s school and Town deficit for the coming year to maintain level services. As a result of this inadequate funding, Harvard is forced to increase property taxes and cut services. Many would look at Harvard and conclude that the community can afford to increase taxes due to its average incomes and property values. That is why it is a good example. Census data indicates that about one fifth of the seniors in Harvard, and 11.5% of the Town as a whole, have household incomes of $35,000 or less. This means with an average family tax bill rising to $8500 or more, they will likely be paying 25% of their fixed income in property taxes. The family farmers, some of the few that are left in Massachusetts face the same dilemma. Through a delicate balancing act, the Town continues to ratchet down school services to each child. In 1993, it spent $5930 per child in the schools on regular education. In 2008, it spent less — $5793 per child. After inflation, this represents a decline of 40% in spending since 1993 despite the substantial tax increases. Still, as seniors and farmers leave, they are replaced by families with children which increase school costs without a corresponding increase in the tax base – making matters even worse.
The only solution is to end Massachusetts’ excessive reliance on the property tax and increase reliance on the state income tax. Massachusetts is now 47th in the Country in the amount it funds public schools as a percentage of income – less than California. California started down this path 5-10 years before Massachusetts with Proposition 13. If you speak with your friends in California, even with higher state funding, it now has a 2 class education system in which very large numbers of students have left public education for private school. Twenty-five years ago California’s public schools were among the best in the country.
The Governor is proposing to study the problem and recently launched his Project Readiness initiative. Unfortunately, this well intentioned program is not designed to bear fruit for many years to come. The solution is to bring our state funding in line at least with the national average for state spending. The best means to raise the revenue is through the income tax so as not to punish the less advantaged, the seniors and the farmers. The Governor’s proposals for gambling, closing corporate loopholes and allowing for local sales taxes provide no assurance of additional funding for many communities in Massachusetts and some of these proposals may never come to fruition.
We need to adopt “0.5% for the Kids.” That is, a 0.5% increase in the income tax that is legally required to be distributed to all c
hildren in all school districts on a per child basis. This would raise $1B in revenue from those most able to afford it and would assure that the next generation has the skills and education to maintain a strong state economy. It could leave intact the positive parts of the existing Chapter 70 formula to assure state subsidization of less economically fortunate districts, while addressing the need to fund special education and perhaps many of the key programs that Project Readiness envisions. It would also retain local control and leave local districts with the authority they need over programs and spending to assure maximum value for their schools. Finally, we need to adjust the Chapter 70 formula to eliminate its arbitrary and inequitable features.
This action takes courage and will certainly have substantial opposition. But, it is the only option that can, in fact, relieve the regressive property tax burden. This feature – relieving the burden on seniors and the most vulnerable members of our communities – if properly communicated, provides the political capital for it to succeed. Mandatory distribution of the funds per capital, per child is also key, so that all students in all districts benefit from the proposal and have a stake in their public schools.
Our leaders must acknowledge the elephant in the room – the decline of our public schools. Give them the courage to get engaged. Meet with the Governor, your legislators and share your views so that financially viable, first class public schools remain the centerpiece of our education system.