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Is it true that adjusting for cost of living in school funding was suggested before and was divisive?

Is it true that adjusting for cost of living in school funding was suggested before and was divisive?

To our knowledge, the answer is no, yes, sort-of, no.  First of all, we haven’t been able to find anyone who was “in the room” during any formal discussion of regional cost supplementation.  (Please put us in touch with them, if you do!)

Second, we haven’t found anyone who disputes that there are large and real differences in the cost of living between different regions in California.

Finally, we haven’t found anyone willing to argue that it is equitable to provide no services to counteract disadvantage in districts where LCFF supplemental and concentration funds are swallowed by cost-of-living differences.

So there is general acceptance that there is a problem, coupled with general reluctance to do anything about it, in the absence of anyone speaking up from the afflicted areas. That’s why we’re speaking up now.

On to our answers: no, yes, sort-of, no.

No, such discussions as we’ve heard about (second-hand) have been around indexing (not supplementing) for regional costs -- no district will receive less with a regional cost supplement. While indexing balances costs, it does so by creating winners and losers. The challenge here is that areas with the lowest regional costs-of-living tend to have less dynamic regional economies, thus there are fewer job alternatives in downturns, fewer opportunities for working spouses, fewer summer positions, and fewer opportunities for teenage and young adult children. This is the major reason we are supporting a supplemental, not an indexed approach. 

Yes, we have heard that there was a suggestion that urban areas should get higher LCFF funding than rural areas, which made the rural areas very unhappy since many cities are in low- or mid-cost areas, which didn’t seem to merit higher funding at all.  Instead, this apparently seemed like some large cities wanting to have their cake and eat it, too.

Sort-of, as we have seen cities and counties cry foul, preemptively, when local property-tax funding of schools is discussed. Quite amazingly, cities and counties have been fairly successful in selling education on the idea that Serrano v. Priest was about the unfairness of any property taxes flowing to education, since property taxes are, de facto, tied to the relative wealth of an area.  

As a result (see chart from the Legislative Analyst's Office “Understanding California’s Property Taxes” November 2012 below) cities and counties have been very successful at getting their hands on a disproportionate amount of the mother’s milk of local funding (stable, reliable property tax) while leaving school children dependent on the soda pop of the state’s General Fund (cyclical, transient income tax). 

No, only last November when the County of San Francisco announced the discovery of $400 million of “excess” educational funding -- and took it -- was it overwhelmingly clear that there was both a major problem and an obvious solution here.  The highest cost counties, combined, are redistributing over $600 million of education-allocated property tax to other local governments. Why? Because local property prices have so definitively outstripped local school funding.

Far more divisive will be the situation in 2020 if the Legislature goes out for more taxes “for the schools,” only to have to explain why they have consistently refused to allocate $600+ million of already-paid-for-education tax revenue to the schools.  The accusation of creating “poster children for new taxes” is not a new one, but will have more credence.