Wyoming Legislature Considers Revision of Ed. Aid Formula
The Wyoming legislature last week began work on the final step, and Tennessee took the first, toward addressing financial inequities between school districts.
In both instances, the issues are similar to those confronted by more than half the states since 1970: School districts with high property wealth can provide higher salaries for employees and better facilities for students, and state aid is insufficient to correct the disparities.
A bill now before Wyoming's house education committee is the second part of the state's response to a 1980 state supreme court ruling that the current system of paying for public education is unconstitutional.
Written by a select legislative committee on school finance, House Bill 212 depends on the state's "recapturing" and redistributing existing property-tax proceeds, rather than on new revenues. In addition, it rewards local efforts by guaranteeing wealthy and poor districts the same amount per pupil if their tax rates are equal.
Last November, voters paved the way for the change by approving a constitutional amendment that rolls back county school taxes by six mills and authorizes the state to increase its levy by the same amount.
At issue now is how to allocate the proceeds from the statewide property taxes. H.B. 212 would increase the amount of state aid per "classroom unit" from $43,500 to $73,000, according to Dennis J. Kane, director of communications for the state department of public instruction.
The measure would also repeal state "supplemental aid" for special education and other extra services by considering special-needs students in the regular state allocation formula.
And it would encourage the consolidation of small schools by ensuring that districts will not lose state funds if they eliminate classroom units.
Opposition to the Plan
Because agricultural and mineral lands in the largely rural state are relatively lucrative sources of property-tax revenue, school officials and legislators from some smaller districts oppose the plan.
Lynn O. Simons, state superintendent of public instruction, "was hoping for a unified front from the local school districts," Mr. Kane said. "But he didn't get that because some of the districts are raising concerns about the recapture provision."
Most Would Benefit
Most of the state's 49 school districts, particularly those in more populous areas, would benefit from the redistribution, he said, but he noted that some would lose funds.
The department of public instruction has taken no formal position on the bill yet, Mr. Kane said, but considers the issue "the most important one that will face the legislature this year."
Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature received a 500-page report that contends, in part, that financial inequities are at the root of inadequate schools in many districts.
The Tennessee Comprehensive Education Study, ordered last year by the legislature and carried out by a committee of 27 legislators, educators, and citizens, contends that financial disparities between districts are increasing because the state has not been able to maintain its share of support of the schools.
"The main problem is property assessment," said William H. Payne, executive director of the study. Because of the state's seven-year reassessment cycle, he explained, the state has no uniform way of measuring local wealth--and local wealth determines the amount of state aid collected by each school system.
The state would also consider local sales-tax receipts, which make up about one-third of districts' local-ly generated revenues, in measuring wealth, the committee said.
The wide disparities in per-pupil spending--which range from less than $600 in the poorest districts to more than $1,100 in the wealthiest--are a major barrier to the educational improvements recommended in the study and, "cannot be justified," the committee concluded. Because taxation is outside its purview, the committee recommends that a second panel be appointed to examine ways of broadening the state's tax base for public schools.