In his memoir, “How Things Really Work,” Former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby compared education finance reform to a Russian novel. He contended: “the story line runs across generations, the plot is complex, the prose is tedious, and everybody dies in the end.”
Rep. Scott Hochberg, Vice Chair of the House Pub Ed Committee and finance formula expert, offers a comparison based on the Titanic: “No matter whether a district has been in first class or steerage, they all end up on the same lifeboats, floating on the same water,” he said of his HB 2485, which attempts to equalize funding across all school districts.”
It is well known that not everyone made it onto a lifeboat before the Titanic went down. And while districts may be equalized and rid of target revenue at last, the colossal funding shortfall will still leave hundreds of thousands of students adrift.
In addition to completely eliminating target revenue, which is blamed for creating huge funding disparities amongst districts, the bill slightly increases funding for students in poverty and bilingual education programs.
A separate, second piece of legislation also authored by Hochberg, HB 2484, grants school districts greater leverage to combat the revenue shortfall. The bill would allow the commissioner to authorize districts to increase local property tax rates. This is part of a deal that was cut in 2006 to ensure that districts would be protected from any loss of funds due to the tax cut.
Hochberg estimates that the tax increase would average 40 cents statewide. The irony should be apparent. The tax increase would almost wipe out the 2006 tax cut. “It’s important for members to know what 9.8 billion means, and what 9.8 billion could mean to their school districts,” Hochberg said of his new legislation.
Hochberg was quick to admit that he’s not keen on his proposed legislation, but as the bill-filing deadline nears and there’s no new revenue or Rainy Day relief in sight, he felt compelled to offer a solution that satisfies the state constitution’s requirement for an efficient system of public education.
The 40-cent tax increase cut is going to give a lot of lawmakers heartburn. But don’t blame Hochberg. The fault lies with the flawed system the Legislature created in 2006 (and of all those plans that went before). The tax cut was too big, and the target revenue system was too flawed to be sustained. Looks like Bill Hobby was right. Everyone dies in the end.
[This post written by legislative intern, Katherine Stevens]