Editor’s Note: The State Senate Media Office distributes these columns on behalf of senators. Sen. Sharp, defeated in the August run-off election by Shane Jett, will be leaving office at the end of the year. Jett will meet Libertarian candidate Greg Sadler on the November ballot for State Senate District 17. The following is shared exactly as the senate media office sent it.
Submitted by the State Senate Media Office on behalf of Sen. Ron Sharp.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has increased the rhetoric among national and state politicians that education dollars should “follow the student”.
The term that is used to describe this idea allowing parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools is called vouchers.
Any institutional knowledge of Oklahoma’s constitution reveals that several voter-approved amendments would be required before a voucher plan could be possible. For instance, the Oklahoma constitution prohibits public funds for personal profit or for secular (having a neutral position to religion) purposes.
If the amendments were to be approved, this would either result in a significant reduction of funds to your local public school, or the need to raise your taxes significantly to off-set the loss of funds.
The reason the voucher idea isn’t possible is the base of public school funding is ad valorem (property) taxes. The Oklahoma constitution prohibits ad valorem dollars from being transferred across district boundaries.
In fact, the Oklahoma legislature doesn’t receive or allocate ad valorem funds. Under the Oklahoma constitution all ad valorem dollars are retained within each of the state’s 77 counties for the operation of schools and county governments.
The term ad valorem is Latin, meaning “of value”. Each of Oklahoma’s county assessors uses a system of “fair market value” to determine the ad valorem taxes each property owner should equitably pay each year.
The only funds that could possibly follow the child (through vouchers) are state funds designated to only supplement what local dollars cannot provide in the “Equalization” Education Funding formula.
The Oklahoma Equalization Funding Formula is a two-tiered system with local dollars as the base of the formula with the state providing only supplemental funds in the second tier.
The county treasurer allocates funds to each local district based on the number of students enrolled. The state then attempts to equalize funds to the less wealthy local districts.
If these state supplemental funds were to be misdirected to vouchers, the entire two-tiered structure of public education funding would collapse.
Charter schools have already placed the equalization formula into a free-fall since they receive 100% of their funds from the state’s tier of the formula, which is only supposed to be providing funds to the poorest local school districts.
There are currently 39 Oklahoma public school districts that are “off the formula” meaning because of local wealth, the school district receives zero state aid.
There are several school districts that are “off the formula” in which local taxpayers may be paying $4,000-$18,000 per year in ad valorem taxes based on the fair market assessment of property.
Just because a school district is “off the formula” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a rich district. It only means its “chargeables” are sufficient to provide for its funding. It would generally require a school district to be at least 115% or above to be considered a wealthy district.
There are 67 local public school districts that don’t receive per student state funds due to their local fair market wealth. The less wealthy the district, the more state aid the district receives as supplemental funding.
Subsequently, the only funds the Oklahoma legislature has access to that could be used to “follow the student” are those that should be directed to the districts with low property assessments.
Rural school districts are already at a disadvantage since agricultural property receives a preference reduced rate.
Parents with children (dependents) receive an exemption in state taxes. If these parents received a voucher to send their children to private schools, the only ones potentially left to pay for public schools would be senior citizens or those without children.
The wealthy school districts would be unaffected by a voucher plan since they don’t receive state funds for their operation.
It’s understandable the legislators that support vouchers live in affluent districts or don’t send their children to public schools. They hide under the political spin of “school choice.”
There are always consequences when attempting to provide solutions that have no application to the problem.
Next week, I’ll discuss the problem with forced consolidation of local school districts. If you have any questions or I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Ron.Sharp@oksenate.gov or call me at (405) 521-5539.