Because he has unique insight, I decided to turn this week’s blog over to the Putnam City Schools Chief Financial Officer Shannon Meeks (pictured left). His analysis of Governor Stitt’s suggestion regarding changes to state education funding is cogent and thought provoking. What are your thoughts? - Jennifer Seal
During his first Tulsa Regional Chamber State of the State forum, Governor Stitt discussed allowing communities to raise property taxes to provide more money for a school district without the money counting against the state’s equalization formula for school funding. This is an idea that would destroy the very concept of equal education for Oklahoma’s children.
All school districts face funding challenges, and each has its own unique needs. However, a consistent need is teacher recruitment and retention, and within that category of need the two most common topics are class size and salary. If funds were available, many districts would probably wish to address these issues by adding a teacher per grade level Pre-K through 5th grade at each district school. Additionally, it’s reasonable to assume districts would also wish to increase starting teacher pay to $45,000. That’s still well below what many north Texas districts pay starting teachers, but it’s also $8,400 above state minimum. For districts solely in Oklahoma County, what would those two moves cost homeowners? You can see the numbers below in the chart.
While five districts in the “Average” group see a comparable 10 to 13% increase in property taxes, the remaining 10 districts are impacted much differently. With homes valued $28,000 below county average, the six “High” category districts, see a 19 to 83% increase in annual property taxes. Conversely, with homes valued $89,000 above county average, the four “Low” category districts only incur a 6 to 7% property tax increase. As you can see, taxpayers with the least resources are asked to make the greatest sacrifice. The most extreme case – Bethany’s 83% increase in property tax – is most certainly undoable.
The recruitment and retention advantage of paying $8,400 above state minimum is apparent. Reducing class size may have a larger impact, not only by attracting teachers, but also by impacting learning environments, as the chart below shows.
Inevitably, there will be districts in which taxpayers vote to increase property taxes for educational needs and those that don’t or can’t. These are the very disparities our state promised to prevent. By implementing an equalization formula for state aid distribution decades ago, Oklahoma made a commitment to equal education. Annually, millions of state aid dollars move between school districts based solely on their local revenues. The initial state aid allocation of fiscal year 2020 saw $253 million transfer from 211 locally affluent school districts to 260 districts with fewer local resources. That is a quarter of a billion dollar commitment to ensure ALL students, regardless of address, receive equal educational opportunities. The proposal mentioned by the governor, allowing communities to circumvent equalization, is in direct opposition to that commitment. It is a proposal that would reintroduce the gap between those with and those without that the state has long tried to close.