Opinion

Fund schools fairly

It may take years before state lawmakers realize that the property tax reform act of 2006 was a misguided idea that needs to be scrapped. In the meantime, though, we hope the Legislature will tweak the law to ensure that fast-growing school districts receive enough money from the state to keep up with the increasing number of students.

The law, Act 388, replaced residential property taxes, which had been used to help fund school operating costs, with a 1-cent sales tax last year. Now, instead of school districts receiving tax revenues based on the residential property values, money is doled out by the state with no regard for the varying needs of the districts.

The formula developed under the law poses serious problems for districts with fast-growing populations, including Fort Mill and Rock Hill, the fastest-growing districts in York County. Under that formula, funding is based on state population growth, not local growth.

The formula is a bonanza for districts with stagnant or shrinking growth, where residential property values are likely to be receding. But it is a potentially crippling burden for the districts that have to accommodate a large influx of new students.

All four York County districts expect to get at least $1 million less this year than they would have before the law was changed. Rock Hill expects to lose $1.9 million; Fort Mill, $1.7 million.

That's no surprise in light of the fact that York County was the fastest-growing county in the state last year, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 2000, according to figures released this month, the county has grown by more than 44,000 people -- or nearly 27 percent. Census officials cite the county's proximity to Charlotte and a large number of retirees moving to the state.

Ironically, the combination of good schools and low property taxes are luring new residents to the county. And that results in a significantly increased burden on local school districts.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, has introduced a bill that would restore some balance to the school funding formula. His bill would require the state to ensure that fast-growing districts receive the money they need to cope with growth. A similar bill in the House has the support of local Republican representatives Mick Mulvaney and Carl Gullick.

But Hayes is skeptical that the Legislature will make the changes this session. He has vowed, however, to keep introducing legislation until the need is recognized.

Walter Brown, a member of the Rock Hill school district board, believes it will take a groundswell of complaints from the general public until lawmakers will pay attention. But that, too, will take time.

Meanwhile, districts with heavy growth will suffer. Bill Mabry, associate superintendent of administrative services in the Rock Hill school district, estimates that the $1.9 million the district won't get this year is roughly equivalent to 34 teaching positions. And that's in a district that is growing by 300 to 400 students a year.

If lawmakers insist on inventing a school financing system that helps spur growth in many school districts, it ought to adjust the funding formula to help those districts handle the growth. Unfortunately, lawmakers apparently want to take credit for giving homeowners a tax break but don't want to take responsibility for the train wreck that is occurring as a result.

IN SUMMARY

Legislature needs to provide more money to schools that face demands of growth.

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