Education Tax Roundup from Tuesday Elections

Published November 10, 2011

Ohio Voters Reject Education Tax Increases
In approximately two-thirds of northeastern Ohio districts, voters renewed existing tax levies for schools but refused to increase them. Forty-two Cleveland-Akron school districts put property and income tax increases on the ballot in November citing salary freezes, reduced state school funding, and transportation cuts—and voters shot down nearly all of them.

Several of these districts have been requesting tax increases for more than a decade.

“I’m wondering if there’s a culture in our communities against new taxes,” said Brian Williams, superintendent of the Buckeye School District.

—Staff reports

Seattle Approves Doubling Education Tax
Seattle residents will pay twice as much in education tax levies after 59 percent of voters approved an increase in November. The measure will raise an additional $232 million for city public schools over seven years, adding an average of $59 to property taxes.

Seattle Public Schools has in recent months been attempting to patch up a major financial scandal over billing and contracting practices. The school board sacked the district superintendent, and prosecutors filed theft charges against three people, including a school district manager.

Tax opponents had noted the scandal as a reason not to send the district more money. They also cited the city’s 22 percent dropout rate and that less than a quarter of black and Hispanic high school students rate as proficient in math on state tests.

Seattle currently spends $13,300 per public-school student, collecting the levy in addition to normal property, business, and sales taxes. The new revenue will be spent on pre-K programs, after-school and summer programs, and school health clinics.

“It’s unfair to impose a tax increase on the elderly, the poor, and the unemployed during the worst economy since the 1930s for a program that doesn’t work,” said Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center. “City leaders should stop seeking more money and start educating kids.”

—Staff reports

Atlanta Approves Education Sales Tax Increase
Sixty-four percent of Atlanta metro voters approved a 1 percent sales tax increase projected to bring in $3.2 billion for public school infrastructure in the next five years. Atlanta voters have never rejected a sales tax increase tied to education.

Atlanta Public Schools have struggled to overcome one of the nation’s largest cheating scandals in the past year, after official inquiries revealed teachers and administrators gathered to erase and replace incorrect student answers on standardized tests.

“Notwithstanding some yard signs here and there, pro-tax supporters were also largely invisible,” said Kyle Wingfield, a commentator for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.” Yet the measure passed. No wonder politicians like this method of letting citizens tax themselves: The politicians still get to spend the dough, while washing their hands of the responsibility for raising taxes.”

Local politicians supporting the sales tax increase told voters it would reduce municipalities’ need to raise property taxes. Several municipalities planned to use revenue from the increase toward noneducation projects, such as performing arts centers and new City Halls.

—Staff reports

Pennsylvania Senate Revisits Parent Trigger
In passing a bill that would introduce vouchers, simplify and strengthen charter law, and expand education tax credits, Pennsylvania state senators dropped a Parent Trigger provision.

The Parent Trigger, already enacted in four states, would have allowed a simple majority of parents to petition for a failing school to be converted to a charter school. Legislators excised it during lengthy debate on several school choice measures they sent the Pennsylvania House in October.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R) staff is still holding out hope the provision will pass, said Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.

“We support the concept and look forward to continued discussions with the Legislature on the bill,” Eller wrote in an email to The Morning Call, a Pennsylvania newspaper. Corbett’s administration expects the legislature to add and pass further school choice provisions during its current session, said Corbett spokeswoman Janet Kelley.

In the meantime, two bills offering versions of the Parent Trigger have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate.

The Parent Trigger “indicates a paradigm shift” in school choice, said Lawrence Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. “[Parents] know when things are going wrong. And they truly have the most at stake.”

—Staff reports

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