Education
12:14 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Local Kentucky School Tax Revenue and Results, A Complicated Matter

As we reported Thursday, the amount of local revenue that school districts could potentially generate by raising taxes varies widely. Some of the richer areas can raise hundreds of dollars more per student than others. Some say that's created another type of inequity in school funding over the past few years while per-pupil spending at the state level has deceased.

Credit Shutterstock.com

Per a suggestion via Twitter, I checked out the top ten and bottom ten districts that were featured in the report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, which showed these funding differences.

Interestingly, many of the school districts that were able to generate the lowest amount of per-pupil spending by raising local taxes the maximum amount allowed (4 percent) outranked several of the top ten districts, according to the state's accountability system.

For example, Jefferson, Newport, Covington, and Bellevue are part of the top ten districts that are able to raise the most local tax revenue. But all 10 districts in the bottom 10 are ranked equally or higher than those ditricts.

Credit Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

But Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says you need to be careful when considering the factors that go into this analysis.

"There's just so many complications. I don't think you can make any blanket statements about that," he says.

Holliday says some of these districts may look very different in terms of how many students they serve to the make up of student demographics.

"It could have to do with poverty, it could have to do with size of school, it could be that they have more teachers with master's degrees. So it gets very complicated when you're trying to correlate amount spent or the amount available to spend per student," he says.

But money matters, Holliday says. Over the last three years over 1,800 teaching positions have been lost, he says.

When you talk to education financial experts, their thoughts on how to fund public education vary.Lawrence Picus, professor of education finance and policy at the Rossier School of Education at University of Southern California, says it's not safe to assume that a district getting high scores and spending more money should be able to get the same results with less money just because another district is doing it.

"You've got to look at the characteristics of the children, there's lots of differences that effect those things. But who's finding efficient ways to do it or ways to drive how they allocate their resources in ways that research suggests they're most likely to improve student learning?" he says. 

Holliday says more changes in school funding need to happen.

The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act ensured that all schools receive equitable funding, but that conversation has changed over the past several years, he says.

Any new public education funding reforms in Kentucky could include putting more emphasis on the needs of schools and districts that have more at-risk students. Holliday is also asking that the state government supply the education department with adequate funding to meet the requirements it set in 2009 with Senate Bill 1.

"Adequacy in my mind means how much money do we need to have reasonable assurance that every child is going to be able to meet the standards that our state has established for all students," Picus says.

This is a tough question to answer and includes different models, he says, adding that every state approaches it differently.

For example, some states have built public school systems around how much money is needed and then funding that amount, he says. Other states put larger emphasis on how much money the state has and trying to distribute that equitably. Some states like Kentucky give school districts the opportunity to raise taxes individually too. California, he notes, has no control at the district level to raise revenue through taxes.

"There's 50 states, there's 50 different systems," Picus says.

(Image via Shutterstock)