Friday, March 02, 2007

Massachusetts Ed Reform funding, as constrained by Prop 2.5

In Massachusetts, property taxes are limited by a ballot initiative call proposition 2.5. Basicly, a town's total property tax levy cannot rise by more than 2.5% each year unless the town votes to approve a larger increase. The baseline is set at whatever a town's tax levy was in 1980 when the initiative passed.

Education reform was initiated in 1993, with the goal of assuring that every municipality spends at least a "foundation" amount of money for its schools. State funds are allocated to towns to increase their total spending to at least the "foundation" level.

Now, you might notice that these two laws are at odds. The state has limited ability to force towns to increase spending because of the Prop 2.5 limitations. But comparable towns were spending wildly different amounts of money for schools when Ed Reform began. And, no suprise, 14 years later - towns STILL are treated quite differently in terms of education funding equity.

Simply put, Prop 2.5's limits on funds that a town can raise, combined with the goal of equalizing financial resources for schools in different towns, means some tax-averse towns have been getting a windfall, while some other towns that historically supported their schools more than comparable wealth towns have been shortchanged in the allocation of state education and regional school funds.

There's the background.

Last year, the legislature began to phase in a correction seeking to achieve greater equity of state support for schools based on a town's school burden and ability to pay. The intention was to bring shortchanged towns up to appropriate funding levels in five years. This could have been achieved immediately by reducing state funds to locales receiving more than equitable funding, but that approach was never even contemplated - and thus, the reform requires additional state revenues.

Now we've got a new governor with his own priorities, and the state budget is tighter than anticipated. And one of the ways he's proposed for saving money is to slow down the correction for state funding.

To be continued ...


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