As our economy slowly recovers from the 2007 financial collapse, the unfortunate after-effects of the Great Recession continue. One particularly ugly consequence is the financial meltdowns lingering effect on public school funding.
For simplicitys sake, you can think of public school funding as a pie made up of three primary pieces. The largest slice of the pie comes from revenue a school district collects from local property taxes. Then, youve got a smaller slice that comes from state funding and a tiny sliver representing federal funding.
So whats happened to these pieces of pie over the last few years? Theyve shrunk.
While the stock market may have returned most of its losses since the collapse, property values are still lagging. And state coffers are still stretched. Translation? Lower assessed property values and shortfalls in state education funding.
This puts suburban, bedroom communities, which cant rely on steady tax revenue from big businesses, in a serious bind. Take the Liberty Public School District as an example.
The Northland district has been accredited with distinction and on average performs in the top 10 percent of districts in the state of Missouri. As a result, it has seen steady increases in enrollment as families north of the river gravitate to new developments and great schools that are just a 15-minute commute from downtown Kansas City. Over the last few years the district has added hundreds of new students to its charge each year and anticipates adding 2,500 more by 2020.
However, while the number of students the Liberty Public School District is serving has grown since the financial collapse, the total assessed valuation of all property in the district, which makes up the biggest piece of the pie in terms of operating revenue, has shrunk. Homes are worth less, and the property taxes they bring in are now smaller.
To add insult to injury, the Missouri legislature is currently shortchanging school districts statewide by about $600 million a year because of its failure to meet the school funding formula it passed into law in 2005. For Liberty, that means a $4 million annual shortfall.
So whats a school district to do? Well, in the last five years the Liberty Public School District has frozen teacher wage scales twice, trimmed staff head count, rented portable classrooms in lieu of new construction and shaved $5 million from its operating budget in an effort to make ends meet.
But those cuts arent enough to fill a gap caused by demographic shifts and an economic downturn well outside of the districts control.
Liberty schools look to close revenue gap