A myth that some folks around the state are trying to perpetuate is that school district spending is the main culprit of disproportionately high property taxes. Blaming public schools allows these institutes, agencies, and officials the opportunity to push other parts of their political agendas as well.
A look at the numbers here in York allows us to dispel that notion rather easily.
York Public School’s general fund spending only increased 12.9% between 2008-09 and 2015-16 for an average annual increase of just 1.8% but yet the general fund property taxes we received increased 54.4% between 2008-09 and 2015-16. Our total general fund revenue only increased 14.3% from 2008-09 through 2015-16 for an average annual increase of just 2.0% (despite our general fund property tax collection having an average annual increase of 7.7%.) State Aid has been a wild ride for us as it hit a high of $3,714,809 in 2009 and plummets to $572,781 in 2016-17. Do you suppose the drastic cut in state aid has anything to do with our over-reliance on local property taxes?
The way schools are funded in Nebraska is the culprit for high property taxes….politicians not fully funding the state aid formula are the culprit for high property taxes….not school districts meeting the needs of its children and community. In 1998-99, K-12 public education accounted for 32% of the state’s general fund budget. Today, that percentage has plummeted to 27.4%. If K-12 education received the same percentage of the state budget today that it used to, there would be over $190 million more in the TEEOSA (state aid) formula. The TEEOSA (state aid) formula has been tweaked at least a dozen times in the past several years. In most cases, it was to minimize the allocation to K-12 education so the state could balance its budget and force schools to request more local property taxes. That's how this system works.
As a state, Nebraska ranks 49th in the nation in the percentage of its state budget that is allocated to K-12 education. As a result, Nebraska as a state ranks 2nd in the nation in the percentage of revenue for public school districts that comes from local property taxes. All Nebraska public school districts already adhere to state mandated levy limit lids as the general fund + building fund maximum levy can’t exceed $1.05. All Nebraska public school districts already adhere to state mandated spending lids.
Perhaps the cost of educating children simply increases over time, especially those with increased needs, like almost everything else in our world…
According to a nearby agricultural coop, the cost of a bag of seed corn for our farmers has jumped quite a bit in recent years. The average cost in 2009 was $280. In 2015, the average cost was $350. This is a 25% jump in just six years for an average annual increase of 4.16%...but it’s still the same size of bag with the same seed corn contents….nothing more….nothing different….nothing less….
According to www.nfda.org, the median cost for an adult funeral in the United States has increased quite a bit in recent years too. In fact, in 2004 the median cost was $5,582 and it increased to $7,181 in 2014. This is a 28.6% increase in just ten years for an average annual increase of 2.86%....but it’s still the same funeral service, same coffin comparison, same level of preparations, nothing new….nothing more….nothing less….
According to Team Marketing Research, the cost of a hot dog and small soda at Wrigley Field (Home of the Cubs) has really increased over the past few years. In 2009, a small drink and hot dog would’ve cost you $6.00 but in 2015, that same duo would've set you back $10.25. This is a 70% increase in just six years for an average annual increase of over 11.6% but it’s still just a small drink and the same hot dog…nothing more….nothing less….
Public education changes every year and is currently doing more than ever for its students and communities….costs within education, just like every other walk of life, tend to increase some over time….especially when you’re adding more students, higher needs, and expanded programming….public education is MUCH MORE than it was just six years ago….doing much more than ever with increased accountability…after-school programs, summer programs, enrichment offerings, and much more are several common additions that have been made over the past few years in numerous school systems.
Once again, York is a great example of this. As stated on the Department of Education’s website, our PreK-12th enrollment grew from 1,232 in 2008-09 to 1,389 in 2015 for a 12.7% overall increase, or annual average increase of 2.1%. (yet less than our average spending growth.) The percentage of our students qualifying for free/reduced meals grew from 33.9% in 2008-09 to 45% in 2015 for an overall increase of 11.1%, or annual average increase of 1.85%. With this shift in demographics, we're dealing with increased student/family needs.
So, the next time you hear that public schools are to blame for high property taxes, do some digging and find out what's really going on with that district's revenue and spending data that is audit certified each fall. The institutes, agencies, and elected officials that want to see us fail won't like it but that's ok.