There are 295 school districts across the state. Each one is responsible for addressing the needs in their varying communities. There are different costs of living and different student profiles. Our system is a joint responsibility between locally elected school boards who hire their superintendents and raise and spend local property taxes to fund schools and the state which is responsible for funding the basics, setting policy, sharing the cost of construction and ensuring equity across the different communities. It took years to get close to determining how much local money went to the basics and how much went to locally important but “non-basic” priorities.
The court finally decided that we met the minimum when we added $2.3 billion this year and committed $13 billion over the next ten years. Part new and part to replace the local property tax dollars that schools had been forced to spend on some or most of the basics.
Satisfying the court is the beginning, not the end. We legislators understand that we all want to do more than a minimal effort to educate our children and meet our constitutional mandate. After all, we expect our kids and our employees to do more than the minimum. Despite our funding challenges we compare favorably with many other states. Our state economy is positioned to rely on international trade and innovation in technology, bioscience, agriculture and many more economic activities that need highly educated workers.
Our funding formula was a compromise that could not possibly make everyone happy. It will have to be changed. Taxpayers who are homeowners are unhappy with the property tax shift, or levy-swap, compromise done last session. It will be partially fixed next year. Labor negotiations also require compromise and go more smoothly in a climate of shared information, collaboration and honest communication. Intelligent people are at the table and all want to move forward.