PSBA REBUTTAL #4: Chicken Little Comes Home to Roost!

Most of us are aware of the children’s story of Chicken Little.  You know, the story of the little chicken who warned everyone that the sky was falling because he was persuaded by the Big Bad Wolf (Foxy Loxy) to fool the other chickens and assorted fowl into a panic to be exploited by the wolf in order to have them over for dinner…his own dinner, not as guests at the banquet.

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There is a striking parallel between the flood of PSBA and PASBO (Pennsylvania School Board Association and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials) op-eds and this classic children’s story.

Using mostly fear and falsehoods, talking points have been developed in an attempt to defeat HB/SB 76, the School Property Tax Elimination bills.  Those talking points reveal a very clear lack of understanding concerning this legislation or, perhaps more to the point, a failure to actually read the bill before critiquing it.

Normally this sort of thing is to be expected by I am particularly concerned here because talking points that require falsehoods to reinforce is a bad enough action of civil discourse but when this tactic is being used by those who are directly involved in the education of children it should raise some very serious concerns.

These talking points claim that passing HB/SB 76 will exacerbate inequities in school funding.

Actually the opposite is true.

The truth is that the current system of the school property tax created these gross inequities.  If the school property tax is not eliminated those inequities will only continue to grow since poorer, low income school districts can not continue to increase their school property taxes at the same rate as the wealthier school districts.

HB/SB 76 will cap this growth of inequities in school funding allowing for a stable funding measure to be put in place that will allow the state to adjust the Basic Education funding formula to reign in the inequities.  This is something they can’t do now because there is no real predictability to the increases in the school property tax.  We only really know that they’ll go up.  Chapters 11-13 of the bill clearly explains the funding of this legislation.

It is disingenuous to point to the inequities that exists because there is a property tax and demand that the status quo be maintained if they really are concerned about those inequities.

In 2012, Pennsylvania spent $26.5 billion on K-12 education. Only five other states — California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey— spent more.  In 2012, Pennsylvania spent $13,653 per student compared to a national average of $11,735.  Pennsylvania’s K-12 education system is funded through a combination of local (53 percent), state (36 percent), and federal (11 percent) sources. In 2012, Pennsylvania ranked 44th in the percentage share of education costs covered by the state. Its 36 percent contribution rate falls below the national average of 45 percent. (1)

The state average of $11,735 is just that, an average.  Under the system of school property taxes we can see the inequities that have come into being because there is a school property tax.

According to openPAgov.org the 2014-15 spending per student in our school districts ranges from $7,648 per student to $41,858 per student.  That inequity exists, in large part, because there is a school property tax.  That inequity will continue to grow as long as we keep the school property tax in place.

Albert Einstein is attributed for the following…Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The letters from PSBA and PASBO members insist that if we keep doing the same thing over and over again we’ll get different results. That’s ridiculous.  Their failure to actually recognize the the gross inequities that exist because of the property tax in inexcusable.  That failure is exacerbated when they blame a bill that will stop this growth of inequity for doing the very thing that our schools boards have done…grown those inequities.

Another objection states that sending the money to Harrisburg would somehow remove the school districts ability to determine how that money is spent locally.

This is simply untrue.  HB/SB 76 puts that money in a special designated fund in the Treasury Department that is separate from regular budget appropriations.  State legislators will have no say in reapportioning the distribution of those funds.  Each school district will receive exactly what they are currently receiving.  That amount will be adjusted annually based solely on economic growth factors.  Recently the Independent Fiscal office (IFO) stated that schools would see annual increases between 2.5% and 4%.

Let’s be clear.  Each school district would receive the same percentage increase but the variance between 2.5% and 4% will be based on economic factors.

There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in HB/SB 76 that changes how the school district spends that money.  There are no restrictions placed on any School Board except in their ability to levy taxes above and beyond inflationary rates.

The implication here is that we lose local control, as though such a thing currently exists.

School Boards complain about cost drivers like pensions, healthcare and Special Education costs claiming these things are out of their control.  They are right.  Those things are out of their control.  To then turn around and complain that HB/SB 76 removes a local control that isn’t there and cry about a loss of local control is again disingenuous.

There is a problem with unfunded mandates in this state.  On that we all agree, except for the PSBA, PASBO and PSEA when they agree with the special privileges these unfunded mandates give to their public sector employees.  Not all unfunded mandates actually originate with legislators.

The two primary regulatory documents that include many of the unfunded mandates are the Public School Code of 1949 and Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code.  The larger of the two documents is Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code which comes out of the Department of Education.

Those regulations do need to be reigned in.  As long as the property tax to fund education exists, that is not likely to happen, because it doesn’t have to.  They will just continue to pass the cost of the mandates down to local citizens through the property tax.  Passing HB/SB 76 will force us to address these unfunded mandates which is something the PSEA doesn’t really want.  In a recent webinar from the PSBA they acknowledge the PSEA as their sister organization.

So do they want these unfunded mandates reigned in or is that just rhetoric that they use as an excuse while they continue to raise local taxes?

Take a look at these two chart from openpagov.com:

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Now look at this chart from the IFO showing the rise of school property taxes.

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Looking at the IFO chart from 2000 to 2012 we can see that the growth in spending correlates to the property tax growth.  It is the result of the reliance on school property taxes in funding education.

Now one would think that with all this additional spending as total school population declines we would actually produce better results in the classroom.  You’ve seen this in this blog before but we need to roll this out once again.

image11

This, I’m sad to say, is the shocking reality.   All that additional spending has not translated into improved performance of our students in the actual classroom.

The real threat to the PSBA and PASBO is in limiting their ability to raise taxes at will while passing the blame on to everyone but themselves.  The real threat is an accountability to the taxpayers in expecting results that improves the performance of the student in the classroom which should be the priority of a quality education.

Yes, HB/SB 76 allows for other taxes to be implemented through a local income tax but those increase would be controlled by the constituents in that school district.  5 people on a school board would no longer have the privilege of raising taxes because they want to pay for some project the community doesn’t really want.  It will restore the control to the local citizenry.  It will not allow 5 members of the school board to control the locals….even to the point of taxing you out of your home.

The worst false claim of all is that HB/SB 76 does not eliminate the school property tax.  It’s an outright falsehood that, to anyone who has taken to time to actually read the bill, can easily refute.    Maintaining the status quo doesn’t eliminate the school tax, it only allows it to get worse.  Reduction schemes do not eliminate.  The temporary reduction is offset by new taxes that will remain in place as the school property taxes climbs back to it’s current levels.

How long did it take for your school property tax to exceed the Casino revenue relief?

While they tell us that passing HB/SB 76 is cause for panic; as they scream that the sky is falling; they don’t want you to actually look at what is happening to us all because there is a property tax.

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We all know the end of the story of Chicken Little.

That is the ending that the PSBA is defending: their ability to, as Thomas Jefferson put it in our Declaration of Independence, “send hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

 

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(1) http://thenotebook.org/articles/2015/04/22/how-much-does-pa-spend-on-public-schools-and-how-are-costs-shared

 

 

 

 

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