Local property tax policies affect education funding and equity in a major way

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A new report from EdBuild titled “Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education” analyzes the way public schools are funded via property taxes and how this affects school funding equity.

“Close to half of public school dollars in the United States are raised locally, mostly from local property taxes. But not all property tax bills are created equal. In some states, tax rates are fairly similar across districts, while in other states, property owners in one district may be putting in twice the tax effort as those in another.”

Those disparities in “tax effort” for education funding are a key emphasis for the report, which aims to determine whether the burden put on poorer districts is more than their wealthier counterparts. The findings do show a “regressive” tax rate overall in education funding from property taxes, meaning a majority of the states studied had lower tax rates in wealthier neighborhoods, but that’s not the main takeaway.

The key problem highlighted in the report is the taxation of non-residential property, like businesses, factories, and farms. The state-by-state analysis shows that districts “often fail to effectively leverage the non-residential property tax base for school funding.”

Simplified, it often occurs that districts fail to have progressive tax rates on high value properties, meaning they need to make up the difference in education funding with higher taxes on areas that already have smaller tax bases.

So, while equitable education funding should look like this:

Instead, it ends up looking like this:

When this happens, the state’s education funding is inherently unfair. Higher value properties and parts of town aren’t contributing their fair share of school funding, either limiting overall funding or increasing the burden on needier areas.

This report shows that states have a real capability to increase equity in education funding (or do the opposite) based on a few key policies:

  1. Including non-residential property taxes in the conversation around funding.
  2. Guiding and limiting districts’ local tax rates to promote fairness in tax effort.
  3. Taking into consideration the income levels of local taxpayers and setting relative, progressive tax rates for education funds.
  4. The final point of policy revolves around how the state determines each district’s needed budget, and how much they pay toward that total. Essentially, this will determine the tax burden that is put on the local taxpayers.

The general concept of property tax driven education funding seems to be intrinsically inequitable. But, if it is to continue to serve as the model, states must take steps to craft policy that balance the dollars going to districts and the tax burden placed on all citizens.

“If public education is meant to provide every child, no matter his or her background, with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, then funding for public schools must be raised in a way that is aligned with this mission: fairly and equitably, in a manner that supports rather than harms needy communities.” – Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education

How is it fair that poorer communities shoulder a greater tax burden than wealthier ones, while often still having their students receive fewer resources?

To see the full report and how states vary on their levels of fairness in educational funding: read more.


How Martin Luther King Jr. drives my passion for school choice

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In 1983 Congress passed legislation which President Ronald Reagan signed into law: the creation of Martin Luther King Day. Then, in 1986, the federal Martin Luther King Day officially went into effect. We have just celebrated the 31st annual Martin Luther King Day. While schools were closed and students had the day off, many were encouraged to not just sleep in but to participate in celebrations and activities centered around the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I myself had the day off. But there was no time for sleeping in. I got up bright and early to work a unity tournament basketball game hosted at our school. I then took a break from that and helped to run a Keep the Dream Alive Martin Luther King day event at for the families in our charter network.

As I reflect on my short time not only as a principal, but also more importantly as an educator, I think about my own journey to provide quality education for all children and how it began the moment I decided to step into a classroom. That journey now has morphed into a variety of roles: principal in a public charter school, a writer and advocate for educational equity, and a policy fellow working to ensure that legislation related to education is informed by the school and classroom.

In 2013, I decided to join the staff at a school that was in the process of trying to reshape and transform an already struggling school. We had many successes and failures in my two short years, but what is most powerful is that we gave a school and a school community a second chance. And we gave them hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best:

Faith is taking the first step even when you cannot see the whole staircase.

I could not see the path when I took that step and decided to embark on this journey; however, I knew where I wanted the path to take me.

Every year on Martin Luther King Day we see footage of many of Dr. King’s most famous speeches. I reflect on those speeches and how they have shaped my fight for school choice. I think about one of his most famous speeches, “I have a Dream,” when King said simply, “Now is a time to make justice for all God’s children.” He is right and for me, that means that all children deserve the right to quality education in a quality school regardless of zip code or socio-economic means.

The pursuit of educational excellence and opportunity for all children is the force that drives my passion. I will continue to fight for educational freedom for America’s children in large part because of the words of Dr. King. I challenge all who care about school choice to remember how fortunate we are to have had a man willing to give up everything in the hopes that could give others everything.

This year on Martin Luther King Day I have reaffirmed my dedication to ensuring that all children have access to a quality education. It is the best way I know to honor and truly live out the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By David McGuire

Gifted on the South Side of Providence and Finally Getting the Chance to Show It

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If there is one thing that has haunted me over the years as an educator (now former) and as a mother, it is the disparity in expectations for students that glaringly breaks down around race and class. And Rhode Island is no exception. While students of means are often pushed to write thesis statements (and defend them!) in the early grades, black and brown children are far too often consigned to years of book reports and worksheets that don’t push their thinking or provide them with the opportunity to prove how incredibly smart and capable they are.

Well, cue the confetti and hallelujahs because Roger Williams Middle School is changing that. That’s right. Sixth grade students on the south side of Providence are part of a pilot program designed to offer advanced coursework — The Advanced Academics Program — and they are proving to be more than up to the task. In fact, the demand is greater than the number of seats available. Students are selected for the program based on attendance, teacher recommendation, and standardized test scores and there are currently more qualified students than there are spots in the program.

Shaking off that Deficit Mentality

The South Side of Providence is known as a depressed area where poverty is the norm and the school system has been plagued by decades of academic under-performance and high drop out rates.   Wikipedia describes the South Side this way:

The area continues to struggle with poverty issues; the South Side’s median family income is $23,379 as compared with $32,058 for the city as a whole, and more than one out of three families lives in poverty. 52.3% of South Side residents are Hispanic, 24.4% are African-American, 12.2% are white, 9.1% are Asian, and 2% are Native American. 64% of public school children under the age of six speak a language other than English as their primary language. Nearly one in four children has been exposed to unsafe quantities of lead.

It’s nothing like Providence’s East Side where the Who’s Who of Rhode Island choose to live and where income and education levels are high, a majority of residents are white, and a large percentage flock to private schools to avoid using the city’s schools.

So while tragic and wrong,  it’s no surprise that advanced coursework and gifted programs have been virtually non-existent on the south side of Providence, despite it being the area of the city in which a majority of Providence Public School students currently live. Until now.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the drive has been to move low-performing students to grade-level proficiency. Gifted-education programs have largely been the purview of middle-class schools, where students, many of whom were already high-performing, passed a standardized test to enroll in more challenging classes.

Now that more than half of all public school students are coming from low-income families, urban districts like Providence are beginning to rethink who should have the opportunity to participate in advanced academic classes. (Providence Journal, 10.25.16)

And the kids are embracing the challenge and finally able to feel proud of the work they’re doing.  According to the Providence Journal, students in the gifted STEM class  love being able to say that as sixth graders, they are doing 8th grade level work.

“We get to do higher-level thinking,” said Raymond Mejia, age 11. “I’m in a higher-level group.”

“If you’re bored, they’ll come up with something”,  said Hunter Maloney, age 11. “The teachers make it so much fun.”

Math teacher Jeff Glantz celebrates the move from focusing almost exclusively on remediation to providing the higher end students with what they need.

“We’ve been so focused on the kids who need remedial help,” said Jeff Glantz, a math teacher. “It’s nice to add classes on the higher end.  Now we’re asking, ‘How can we help these other kids excel?'”

Jonathan A. Plucker is an education professor who specializes in gifted and special education issues at the University of Connecticut, and he agrees with Glantz.

In no way am I saying closing achievement gaps isn’t important; 3rd grade students should be able to read at a 3rd grade level. My concern is so many of these kids in low-income settings in 3rd grade ought to be reading at a 6th grade level. So much of our policy, interventions, education system treat proficiency as the end zone, when it ought to be a yard marker. (EdWeek, 5.19.15)

The pilot program at Roger Williams Middle School is a start. And worthy of celebration. But the reality is, Providence serves over 23,000 students and common sense tells us that so many of those kids are capable of much higher level work than they are getting. The sixth graders now doing advanced coursework on the south side are shattering stereotypes and helping to push back against a generations old deficit mentality when it comes to poor kids of color in America’s schools.

When I asked Providence Superintendent Christopher Maher for his thoughts, he had this to say:

At Providence Public Schools, we know that our children thrive when they are actively engaged in learning. The Advanced Academics program offers high-performing middle-schoolers new opportunities for in-depth study beyond the basic curriculum. Challenging our brightest students is just one way we create individualized learning experiences for Providence students.

While Advanced Academics has been in existence for many years at Nathanael Greene Middle School, this year we were able to expand the program to a location on the city’s south side,  Roger Williams Middle School. Our hope is that this expansion, and further expansion of the program in the future, can provide Providence middle-schoolers with more options for high-level, personalized learning.

I applaud Maher and all on his team who pushed to bring the Advanced Academis program to Roger Williams Middle School. It shows leadership on what is perhaps the most important issue of all: equity. This first step just may be the catalyst for change that we so desperately need if we are to ever achieve true equity of expectations in our schools.

This post first ran here at Good School Hunting.

Boston City Councilor Bought and Sold, Kids Be Damned

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Boston City Councilor, Tito Jackson

Boston City Councilor, Tito Jackson (Photo credit: Boston Herald)

There is something insidious about Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson growing up in Roxbury, being afforded the unique privilege of attending Brookline schools, and now leading the charge against school choice for families in the very same neighborhoods he is supposed to represent.

Jackson wants to be Mayor. I’m pretty sure that’s not a secret. And he has strategically embedded himself in the blood sport of education politics, working alongside union backed organizations, encouraging students to walk out of school to attend city council meetings, and now championing a resolution to keep the current charter cap and vote no on Question 2. It’s hard to find him anywhere without a giant “Vote No” sign nearby.

Tito’s repeated comments about charter schools demonstrate that he is either totally misinformed as to how the schools work or, the more likely scenario, that he has sold his soul to special interests because winning elections is more important to him than ensuring that the children in his district have the educational opportunities that he did.

One has to ask, how can Tito even be serious with his rhetoric? How can he look at the Boston Public Schools budget that rose every year from $737M in 2011 to over $1 BILLION today and still spread the lie that giving parents quality choices siphons money from the traditional system?  Perhaps his mistakes in budgeting are explained  by a Boston Globe analysis that Tito only appeared for slightly more than a quarter of hearings for the Ways and Means Committee.

No Choice for You

Tito Jackson’s family exercised school choice. And no one begrudges Tito for the excellent education he received in Brookline.

We do, however, take issue with his hypocrisy. He has become a poster child for the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” and sadly, his constituents, both parents and children, are the victims of his double standard.

Black and Latino parents overwhelmingly support school choice both nationally and locally. A national 2015 survey conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options shows that 70 percent of black voters support having more educational options in their communities. Recent polling of Boston parents finds that 75 percent of them support lifting the charter cap with support highest among Black and Latino parents. Tito Jackson is an elected official in the black community. But he isn’t listening.

When we see reading and math score declines in both 4th and 8th grades in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we know that change is needed.  And when we see 70% support for more parent choice options such high-quality traditional public, public charter and scholarship programs, it’s a strong indicator that Black voters know what they want for their children and are engaged in the education reform process.               -BAEO Director of Policy and Research Tiffany Forrester

The Real Subscription to Poverty

Before voting to give himself a $20,000 raise, City Councilor Tito Jackson lamented his current salary of $87,500 and said public service should not be a “subscription to poverty. (Boston Globe, October 8, 2014)

Meanwhile, Tito Jackson is known for working hard to vote in raises for himself and his fellow councilors. He is so disconnected from reality that he fails to realize that denying kids educational opportunities is the real subscription to poverty.

Without a strong educational foundation like Tito got in Brookline, children in his community can only dream of making $87,000 a year; from the floor of Boston’s City Council chambers, Tito argued that salary constituted poverty, for him.

The reality for Tito’s constituents in Roxbury is much different – the federal poverty line is $24,000 for a family of four.  Can he really argue that a household with three times the income and three less people is equally impoverished?

Tito Jackson has lost his way. Let’s not let him take our kids with him.

When will leaders get serious about fixing Illinois’ broken school funding system?

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A step in the right direction”

“Moving Chicago students “toward equality”

“An important step forward”

These are words that leaders around Illinois were using to describe the school funding reform bill that narrowly passed out of the State Senate yesterday. These statements don’t make me feel like we are on the brink of any kind of sweeping reform becoming law in our state.

Even the bill’s chief architect, Senator Andy Manar, called it “a down payment on getting this right.” And I guess that’s the question that sticks out in my mind. What does it take to get it right?

I don’t mean to downplay the Manar bill. I remember what it was like trying to get a school funding reform measure through even one house of the General Assembly; so I know it took a lot of hard work from a lot of good people. And it is a step in right direction. But, right now I feel a little like a kid on a road trip. I don’t so much want to hear that we’re going in the right direction – that’s nice. I have only one question: are we there yet?

When I look at the cautious statements from yesterday, I take that as a “no.”

While Democratic leaders were desperately trying to break through the cloud of realism and hail the bill’s passage as a major achievement, Republicans were busy framing the bill as “a bailout for Chicago.” Governor Bruce Rauner said that it would make him “uncomfortable” to sign a bill that would take money away from school districts.

Uncomfortable? Really?

Even if the school districts that would be losing the money have large reserves and the districts that would receive increased funding would be the ones with the weakest property tax bases; the ones with the largest populations of low-income students.  You know, the districts most in need of increased school funding.

Surely, the Governor would be at least somewhat comfortable in year-one of the Manar plan. There’s a hold harmless clause in there to make sure even districts with far more resources than they need don’t lose a thing. That sounds like it should make a venture capitalist turned public servant and his many wealthy friends very comfortable.

But, are we there yet?  No.  Not yet.

And how about the action on the other side of the capitol rotunda in Springfield? The Speaker of the House, Democrat Michael J. Madigan has established a task force to study school funding in Illinois (for those who don’t know, that’s usually legislative code for “we should be doing something on this issue, but we’re really not ready to do anything…but we don’t want to look like we’re doing nothing.”)

The House is going to have to take up Senator Manar’s proposal in order for it to move forward in the process, but that chamber is working through the Task Force to develop its own plan.

So…are we there yet?

Well, a Madigan spokesperson assures us that the Task Force will “take the best elements of the Manar plan and try to incorporate them.”

I’ll take that for a no.

With an “uncomfortable” governor and an under-motivated House, this may not be a very fast ride for the Manar legislation.

But, just for kicks, let’s imagine a world where Senator Manar’s bill became law. It would do a lot of good for children and families immediately. Surely we’d be able to answer that standing question with a resounding “YES!”

Or maybe not.

We have to get to equity; a state in which the children with the greatest need get the most money. The Manar measure focuses on making sure that everyone gets their fair slice of the pie. But, Illinois still ranks dead last in overall state contribution for P-12 education. What do we do about adequacy of school funding?  How do we make sure that the pie is big enough in the first place?


The hard reality is that there does not seem to be the political will in the citizens of the state or in the legislature to do real school funding reform. And that state of affairs has persisted throughout three decades and the school careers of countless thousands of poor children in this state.

That’s a long ride. And we still are not there.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Justice too long delayed is justice denied”. This trip is way past being an injustice. We need to get there…and fast.

Chris is a husband and dad, in addition to being a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute with a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University. He blogs at Chicago Unheard.