Sunday, May 13, 2007

Roscoe Reynolds, Out Of The Gate With A Tax Increase Proposal

I've been listening to a couple of recordings of Roscoe Reynolds' campaign opening speeches and he indicates that his primary concerns if he is returned to the Senate will include education funding. He states that education funding from Virginia and the Federal Government are way too low, stating on several occasions that he wants "...the state to fully fund education in grades kindergarten through 12". (see similar statement here.)

After looking into this question of "fully funded education" for just a short while it became obvious that a blanket statement like Roscoe's is purely a "feel good" throw-away line. One that, on the surface, can't be argued against by anyone with a modicum of "compassion". It's true, it takes a cold-hearted bastard to dismiss out of hand such a statement about education funding, but I didn't dismiss it out of hand. I did some research. On the other hand, it takes a cynical politician to use a statement like that without stating either how he would suggest it be accomplished or even how to define it.

The only conclusion one can come to is that it would require a massive tax increase and would, by necessity, remove local oversight of school district budgets, replacing that oversight with some central state agency.

Just how does one define "fully funded"? Let me throw out a definition that I think we could all agree on; Fully funded would mean that a school district's yearly budget would be completely fulfilled trough revenues from other than local tax revenues. How's that sound? Is that a reasonable definition of "fully funded".

I've been looking into the relationship between state, Federal, and local revenues in the most recent data sets available for the 8 school districts in the 20th Senate District. On average each school district receives 83.31% of its budget from non-local sources, leaving the local school board and the Board of Supervisors or City Council to determine how to make up the shortfall. In that respect the 20th District's schools are underfunded.

Look at that last statement again, though. You'll notice I said "on the average". It's true, when I add all of the non-local revenues, and divide by the sum of all local revenues in the 8 school districts the non-local dollars only comprise 83.31% of 20th district expenditures.

But does that mean Roscoe is correct when he says he wants "the state to fully fund education in grades kindergarten through 12"? No. Emphatically no. Not when you look at individual school districts and see how disparate they are, even here in the 20th district. There is an even greater disparity across the state.

For example, the Grayson County and Martinsville City school district budgets show the greatest disparity in the 20th Senate District, with Martinsville receiving less than 75% of expenditures from non-local sources, while Grayson County received almost 95% of expenditures from non-local sources. Across the state there are even greater disparities, from the extreme on one end where Fairfax County only received 36.29% of expenditures from non-local sources, to Williamsburg-James City which had a windfall of 824.68%. Yes, you read that correctly, it's not a typo. Williamsburg-James City collected 824.68% (that would be $81,879,354.87, eighty-one million, eight hundred seventy nine thousand, three hundred fifty four dollars, and some change.) more from non-local sources than budgeted.

So, let's suppose Roscoe gets his wish and legislation is proposed that would increase state taxes enough to "fully fund education in grades kindergarten through 12", who decides which school district has to cut their budget and which must increase theirs? There is simply no way to implement such a pie in the sky proposal across the board with such disparate school district budgets.

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