This was intended to be a two-part series in response to the recent opposition piece by the PSBA (Pennsylvania School Board Association). It will take me longer than that to accomplish this goal due to the number of gross misrepresentations and misdirection in the PSBA letter. You can read part 1 here.
The PSBA letter is rife with contradictions. While condemning HB/SB 76, much of the criticism is an attempt to deflect since the criticism of HB/SB 76 made by the PSBA can and should be levied at the existing property tax.
The PSBA makes the claim that “the school funding inequities will be exacerbated.”
There is no doubt that the current system is filled with inequities. There is also no doubt that the school property tax allows these inequities to continue to grow.
The PSBA goes on to say that this plan will undo the work recently completed to enact a new basic education funding formula. The claim is made that school districts will be placed in a system that lacks equity and predictability.
George Orwell, in his classic novel 1984, referred to this type of rhetoric as doublespeak (language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words).
There is nothing equitable under the current funding system through the property tax.
The PSBA then brings the Basic Education Funding Formula into the debate which is a separate and seriously flawed method of distributing state collected taxes back to school districts.
It is true that the Basic Education Funding Formula (BEF) was recently updated but it is also still seriously flawed. Part of the reason is because of the unpredictability of the school property tax.
Many School Districts in areas where we find lower household income are forced to do their budget planning before the distribution of the BEF allowing them to operate on a Zero Budget concept claiming they don’t know how much funding they’ll get from the state. They then find an exemption under Act 1 that allows them to exceed the caps that Act 1 is supposed to contain. The Department of Education then rubber stands the approval of that exemption. With the budget approved, the local taxes increase and then the funding through the BEF comes in from the state generating more revenue for the school district. It then becomes the school district’s OPTION, not requirement, to adjust their funding through the local tax increase.
None of this is by accident. It is designed to work this way. The school districts and the PSBA have done nothing to change that.
When you look at cost per student, which is where the inequity argument is coming from, you find that it varies greatly from school district to school district. The difference can amount to $10,000 or more per student. All that happened under the school property tax because the school districts can….and do!
It is disingenuous to make such a claim about the inequity through HB/SB 76 when it is the existing school property tax that has allowed these inequities to become what they are. Obviously if we maintain the status quo, those inequities are going to continue to grow just as the historical records proves.
Passing HB/SB 76 will actually create a stable and predictable revenue stream for each of the 500 school districts. It will allow the BEF to be reformulated based on the predictable revenue generated by the change to a different funding mechanism. Each school district receives what they are currently receiving adjusted annually by the rate of inflation.
It will create a path to undo the inequity that came into being because there is a property tax.
When HB/SB 76 was formulated it was designed as a mechanism solely to replace the property tax. We were fully aware of the problems with the BEF and have always encouraged our legislators to do what is necessary to correct those problems. It is, however, a different issue. It is separate from the BEF.
The PSBA article goes on to say “School Boards need to be able to use a mix of local taxes and the development of available funding bases that are suitable to each school district’s unique economic capabilities and conditions.”
HB/SB 76 doesn’t touch any of the current Act 511 taxes currently available to school districts as alternative revenue streams. HB/SB 76 includes an allowance for school districts to make an appeal to the residents in the community for an alternate tax to be used for special projects. The only requirement is that it must go before the voters in a no-exemption ballot initiative and that the property tax can not be used to fund it. A local income tax for the project would be levied that has a sunset date. When the funding for that project is paid for, the tax goes away.
That simply common-sense.
When you strip away all of the rhetoric in this recent mailing it still comes down to this: The opposition from the School Boards and the PSEA is an opposition to restoring property ownership to homeowners. It strips the PSBA/PSEA of their ability to tax at will requiring them to conform to the control of their local communities to determine future projects within the school district.
If you truly want to exacerbate the inequities in school funding then you will fight to maintain the Status Quo…the current system of school property taxation.
If you truly want to create a path to leveling the field and putting an ending to the inequities….HB/SB 76 is a step in the right direction.
Nowhere in this PSBA letter does the PSBA address the current inequities of homeowners through the property tax where properties of equal value are taxed at different tax rates through the millage. Two homes on opposite sides of the street may find heavy differences in their property taxes simply because those homes are in different school districts.
Nowhere in the PSBA article do they address the inequities of the current system of assessments to determine property worth. In every county-wide reassessment, the appeals follow. Those appeals are largely in favor of the homeowner revealing how flawed the assessment process is. It allows for larger corporations to bring in their legal teams and fight their assumed assessed value and when they win those cases, as they often do, the lost revenue is thrown back to the rest of the property owners in the district.
It is a seriously flawed system for funding one of the most essential assets in our Commonwealth: the education of our children.