I’m taking this from the point of view of a Texas, but my understanding is that most states have at least some unhappiness over how public schools are funded.
I’ll start with the axiom that public schools are a good thing and should be funded by some form of taxation. This is, of course, a completely debateable proposition, but that’s another whole thread, so please refrain from arguing that specific point in this thread.
Texas has had issues with school funding since I was in middle school. At first, it was the Edgewood case that shot down district by district funding. The problem, as I understand it, is that poor districts bore a disproportionate burden of property tax when it came to funding schools. The areas within a poor district had poor property values, so it took much higher taxes to raise the money necessary to cover school district expenditures. Edgewood, a district in San Antonio and one of the poorest districts in the state, sued (the state, I believe), and won a decision that this form of funding was unacceptable.
So, for the past couple of decades, the state has been working under what’s referred to as the Robin Hood plan. The state determines how much money a district needs. They then skim off the property tax revenues of the richer districts to make up the gap for the poorer districts. Understandably, the parents of the richer districts were upset about this. They wanted their money to stay in their district and benefit their children.
Now, of course, the courts have said that the Robin Hood plan is unacceptable. AFAIK, no other plan has been put forward, and the state is ->|this|<- far from having terms dictated to it. That’s the background. Other states have other problems. California, for instance, has a tough time because Proposition 13, passed around 25 years ago, caps property taxes at the appraised value of the last purchase of the property.
Here’s what I would like to propose:
Reset property taxes to a two-tier state/district plan. First, the state taxes all property at one rate - low enough for the poor areas to afford. That money goes into a pot for all districts to pay for basic, no-frills education costs. No extra-curricular activities, no special learning centers, no “community affairs”, maybe not even any computers. Cover staff, faculty (to a state mandated faculty:student ratio), administration, grounds, textbooks, and equipment necessary for a school to run. With this, add the caveat that at this level, it is often more expensive to run a school in a poor district than in a rich district. Poor districts have greater problems with theft, vandalism, attracting teachers, and wear-and-tear on equipment. They would, therefore, get a larger piece of the pie. Some subsidizing of poor districts by rich districts is unavoidable if you subscribe to the belief (as I do) that a student’s socio-economic circumstances should not affect their right to a basic education.
From there, each district may levy an additional property tax - whatever the voters approve - to pay for educational services above and beyond the stone cold basics. Want high school football? Get your voters to approve the taxes. Think it’d be really cool to build a district arboretum? Get your voters to approve the taxes for it. Want to pay your superintendent 300% more than other districts? Get your voters to approve the taxes for it. Yadda yadda yadda.
The benefits I see is that it is substantially fairer - everyone pays the same tax rates, every district has the necessary funding to work. It’s not “stealing” from the rich districts in that the taxation is the same for all, and the richer districts can persuade their voters to fund more than the basics. This, in and of itself, leads to district improvements because how good a district is has an enormous effect on property values. The more the voters are willing to pay, the more the district has to offer, the more people are willing to spend to buy property there. The poorer districts have their basics covered without going broke paying taxes, and they don’t have to worry if they’ll have enough in the coffers to pay the school nurse’s salary.
The downside includes ensuring that enough property taxes are collected state-wide to fund all schools and settling what should and should not be covered as “basic necessities”.
Would it work? Would it meet state and federal Constitutional muster? Does it meet with your political bend (other than say, total libertarians who believe public school is a Bad Thing)? Give me your feedback!