Ky. Schools Turning To Property Taxes For Funds

Oct 22, 2013

School districts across Kentucky have maxed-out local property taxes in an effort to make up for cuts in state and federal funding in recent years.

The result is an inequality among the state's 173 districts.

So far, 81 districts have adopted tax rates that will increase revenue by 4 percent, the largest amount allowed under law without being subject to a voter recall.

That's an increase over the 76 districts that approved similar measures last year - and 26 school boards have yet to set a rate, meaning this year's number likely will grow.

The Estill County school board, for instance, expects to raise $65,000 from a tax increase approved this year. But its primary appropriation from the state is down about $700,000 compared to 2009.

Oldham County Schools will generate about $2.1 million from its new tax rate despite having already cut $3 million from its budget and about 30 teaching positions.

Hiren Desai, an associate commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education, said school districts are struggling to collect more money, locally or from the state, to avoid "laying off teachers worse than anything you have ever seen" next year.

Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes told The Courier-Journal ( ) the districts have no other choice but to turn to taxpayers.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved a budget request this month that aims to restore school funding to pre-recession levels. Officials will submit the request to Gov. Steve Beshear in November, and the General Assembly will finalize a budget next year.

House Education Chairman Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said an effort by the Kentucky Board of Education aimed at restoring school funding levels to pre-recession amounts is unlikely to gain traction among lawmakers.

"It comes down to this - there is no money," Graham said.

The state's primary funding stream for schools, the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky program, allocations have remained almost the same while student attendance has increased.

Funding per student under the program has declined to $3,827 this year from $3,866 in 2009, according to the education department.

Another program, Flexible Focus Funding, which helps pay for professional development, safe schools, textbooks and other areas, has dropped to $93 million today from $154 million in 2008.

Restoring those two funds alone would cost $272 million in the next biennium.

Mandatory federal budget cuts will pull about $32 million from Kentucky education programs. School districts also report rising costs from pensions and legislative mandates, such as implementation of new academic standards required under a 2009 law.

"Everything is hitting at once this year," Desai said. Superintendents believe "this is the year to make us or break us."