Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Waiting for Strickland's State o' the State

Tomorrow Gov. Ted Strickland delivers his State of the State address. Aside from the obvious (everyone's economy is now in the tank with ours! w00t!), the Governor is expected to offer at least the beginnings of his school funding fix.

While Strickland made the smart move waiting to this point for obvious political reasons, the economic mess has left him with little room to maneuver. Nonetheless, he's committed at this point. Here are some possible proposals and some of what they might mean.

  • A new methodology for calculating support. This is suggestion of a new KnowledgeWorks report and plenty of others before that. Right now the state uses a formula that supposedly determines how much each school district needs, but each budget cycle the General Assembly reverse engineers the total amount of support so that it looks a lot like the amount they want to spend as opposed to the amount they actually need. The problem with a new formula is it still doesn't tell us where the money comes from.
  • A tax shift. The basic deficiency in the current system is the overreliance on local revenue. The most basic form of school funding reform would be to raise some statewide tax -- a sales tax for instance -- dedicate the revenue to k12 education and simultaneously reduce local property taxes. Even a tax shift would be a hard sell in this economy, but it's hard to imagine a serious reform proposal that doesn't feature one.
  • H.B. 920 Rewrite. The other recent think tank proposal is revisiting the no-growth rule first past in House Bill 920, then ultimately enshrined in the state constitution. By law a local school levy millage is reduced every year in order keep the amount of money charged each property static. Problem is that a fix would require a constitutional amendment. Granted, it's easier to sell growing levies at a time when property values aren't going up. On the other hand, it's a lot of political capital to spend on something that wouldn't offer much immediate help to schools.
  • Gutting State Board Authority. Strickland proposed last year rewriting the State Board duties to make it essentially an advisory board. I could offer at least a post about how horrible Board is, just from governmental structure standpoint, not to mention how, um, unevolved some of its decision making has been. Now that he has some of his appointees on the Board, we'll see if he floats the idea again.
  • Consolodation. Strickland has floated signals before that he would like to see something in the way of consolodating functions, if not districts. This is the sort of big fix for efficiencies that would sell best in a fiscal crunch.
  • Union Concessions. When Taft put together his Blue Ribbon Commission, one recommendation was a state health insurance pool, as opposed to letting the unions bargain with each district. The savings would be significant, but the unions like being able to bargain about health care -- it gives them something of a reason for being. If Strickland is proposing pain on the administration side and pain (or at least tradeoffs) on the part of taxpayers, he may resurrect this idea or one like it to spread the pain.
This list is by no means exhaustive and is only based on ideas that have floated around for as long as I've been watching school funding. No inside info hear. If I'm able to liveblog the SOTS (or lets just call it SoS and be done) look for that. But with a possible snow day tomorrow, no promises.


Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for your take on the speech. I listened but didn't completely understand the changes in school funding. If you got that, can you spell that out a bit and if not and you know who does, link us to it? Thanks!