Let's fix our broken school tax system (Earl Jacques)
Rep. Earl Jacques (D-27th District) begins by saying that Delaware is a great place to live and also “one of the lowest [states] in the country in overall taxation.” But when it comes to education, Delaware has “tried numerous methods to vastly improve our educational system,” but still ranks in the bottom 20%. So here comes a veiled pitch for higher taxes? You guessed it!
In 2017-18, I chaired the Consolidation of School Districts Task Force, which seemed to be a promising approach, but “at each meeting during the public comment period, it became clear that the public liked its current local control system.” Actually, this review was stacked against school district consolidation and the idea did not receive serious consideration. Will school district consolidation task force make the grade? Conservative Caucus of Delaware newsletter, 10/1/17.
While the task force didn’t recommend any consolidation, there were many good suggestions for improving various aspects of education. Funding for K-3, English Language Learner (ELL), low-income and children with disabilities. “I applaud Governor Carney for his efforts to incorporate these critical needs in this year’s budget.”
Also, there appeared to be considerable confusion about various school district reports due to the inconsistent way in which they were prepared. So Sen. Dave Sokola and I authored SB 172 [now HB 129] last year to provide more transparency. And I’m now proposing that “the data center prepare all districtwide reports, which will provide consistency for all districts across the state.”
The big remaining problem is providing operational money to our 19 public school districts because, in recent months, “it has become apparent that school district referendums are becoming increasingly more difficult to pass.” This leads school districts to ask for more money than they currently need so they can face fewer referendums, thereby fueling taxpayer resistance.
Accordingly, “let’s allow school districts to modestly increase their rates for operating funds without a referendum.” Modest = the lower [sic, bill text shows higher] of increases in the Consumer Price Index or 2%, and capital funds would still require a referendum. Most states already have such a system, so “we are behind the curve.”
Another winner is a bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Baumbach, which would shorten the term of school district members (to 3 years from generally 5 years now) so as “to put more power in residents’ hands.” Because school board elections are run on a separate schedule, turnout is generally limited to a small percentage of the overall population.