Friday, June 21, 2024

McHugh David: ‘School choice’ has ramifications that dig deep into how education is funded

by BIZ Magazine

COVID-19 has affected the way society works through the education process.

Livingston Parish is currently under a ‘hybrid model,’ which means some kids go three days a week one week, and two days another. The rest are either five days, because they are children of faculty or have specialty education needs, and the rest are all virtual.

Livingston is not the only parish, and not the only county, to adopt and run with this model. Systems as far away as Ohio, and as close by as Texas, are also utilizing some form of the hybrid model until such time as they believe campuses are safe for children to return to five day instruction.

Here in the parish, both teachers and parents are frustrated with the process. According to first-hand accounts, teachers are worked to the brink by having to deal with the split classrooms (hybrid and in-person), and parents are having trouble keeping up with kids’ school from home – whether that be direct help with assignments, or keeping their children disciplined and on-track because of the guardian’s work constraints.

The issues have caused parents to push back against school boards nationwide, and a push for ‘school choice’ has emerged – and is even part of recovery packages.

Part of school choice is offering recovery funds to private, non-profit, and religious education institutions.

The other part is completely flipping how schools are funded. If you’ve ever heard of Healthcare Savings Funds (HSAs) then you probably understand Educational Savings Funds (ESAs). The twist is that taxpayer funds paid towards chool systems would now go into an ESA for individual households or parents.

Before discussing the varying degrees of the program, it’s important to note that most public school systems are heavily reliant on the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) to stay solvent. The MFP is a combination of state and federal grant money that matches with local revenues. Of the Livingston Parish School Board’s budget, over 50% is MFP funding.

MFP value, per year, is complicated because much of it depends on what is allocated by the United States Congress. However, one factor remains true – a system’s share of the MFP dollars is directly correlated to their total number of students.

Now, there are varying degrees of the ‘School Choice’ act, which have everything from households being able to keep every part of their tax dollars (sales and property) that go to school districts; keeping only part of those taxes; or simply providing parents with a tax-deductible ESA fund wherein they can deposit to make choices.

Let’s say that the federal government decides that the middle path is best – it’s too difficult to track sales tax deposits, but tracking personal property tax is doable. So an individuals tax payment at the end of the year, if you are filing as a parent, will go into your ESA.

The interesting twist here is that the deposits open a new avenue for parents who might send their kids to another district, perhaps private school, or maybe even home school.

Regardless, the Livingston schools are funded through a combination of sales and property taxes. A recently passed millage renewal goes to fund almost all of the administrative assistants in the district. Could you imagine if that funding was removed?

Now imagine if those children, who’s parents uitlized their ESAs to send the kids elsewhere, were also removed. It’s a double-whammy on funding for the system.

There are nearly 27,000 students and 3,500 facutly and staff spread throughout the system, and every person counts. As COVID-19 showed, almost all school systems are a disaster or shift in policy away from hitting in the brink when it comes to delivering education. Are we still battling Common Core almost a decade later?

So a shift from supply side funding to demand side funding is a complete 180 on how society funds and budgets for education – and considering how COVID-19, which is supposedly temporary, shifted the delivery and atittude toward public education, how do you think changing revenue streams would work out?

McHugh David is publisher of the Livingston Parish News.

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