Saturday, December 27, 2008

Funding Educational Futures

The Fayetteville School Board has wisely committed to building a world-class high school on the current campus, and it is exploring an exciting new approach for teaching and learning to educate students for the 21st century. To get there, it will take a combination of state and local funding, and that will be a challenge.

Local funding will mean a property tax increase approved by the voters. If Bobby New will just get gone and forgotten, there is a chance that the Board and patrons can get together, have a two-way discussion, and agree on a campaign to get it done. State funding is more problematic, because the rural coalitions from the eastern and southern counties will oppose any new funding for "wealthy" districts in Northwest Arkansas. They don't think we need any more state funding up in this corner, and all of our local Republican legislators send that message everytime they vote against taxes and spending.

Changing the school building formula is unlikely. The deck is stacked against Fayetteville and the growing urban districts, because the state tax code is heavily influenced by the Farm Bureau and premised on welfare for plantations and the corporate timber interests. That is, rural land is by law assessed considerably below market value. In addition, rural districts with large federal land holdings (such as the national forests or the Buffalo National River) get payments in lieu of taxes.

So, here's an idea for our local legislators to help solve the problem. Despite all the cheap talk about being partners and good neighbors, the University of Arkansas pays not a dime of property tax to the city or the local school district on its billions of dollars worth of land and buildings. All of those large new buildings and those acres of agricultural farm land require city services, but the UA doesn't pay anything, much less its fair share.

Let's enact a provision for state appropriations from general revenues "in lieu of property taxes" to the cities, counties, and school districts wherein state institutions are located. Since we have so damned many two-year colleges and four-year universities, it should be easy to build a coalition and get the votes. If we could get the owners of the Cosmopolitan to pay the $13, 734 they owe in delinquent property taxes, then add in about 300 times that amount a year from a state luau fund, we should be flush enough to pay off the school bonds without a millage increase.

No comments:

Post a Comment