Education • Foes say the bill oversimplifies a complex topic; backers trumpet transparency.
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A Republican lawmaker wants to show Utahns how much of their property taxes goes toward charter schools, by adding a line to their local property tax notices.
It's a proposal, however, that could face opposition from those who say such a change could mislead taxpayers about a complex web of school financing throughout the state.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, plans this session to run HB264, which would require property tax notices to include the amount going toward charter schools. Charter schools are independently run public schools, and there are more than 85 of them in Utah.
"I think it will be good for education policy," Powell said, "to have taxpayers know a little bit more about where their funds are going, how those funds are being spent, and the fact that some of those property tax dollars are going not just as the taxpayers might think to their school districts and school boards they voted for but also for charter schools."
It's a bill that's already garnered support from the Utah School Boards and Utah School Superintendents associations, said Patti Harrington, a lobbyist for those groups. She said the proposed change would make it more apparent to taxpayers exactly how much school districts lose to charters each year.
"We feel like in the interest of transparency, this bill would create a method by which to inform taxpayers some of their property tax money is going to support charter schools," Harrington said.
Others are skeptical of the bill, saying it oversimplifies a complicated situation.
"There's not money coming from the districts to the charter schools in kind of the way that it's being portrayed … with this property tax notice, and I think that's frustrating from a charter school perspective," said Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. "The issue is much more nuanced than I think this bill is sometimes making it out to be."
Charters are funded largely through income tax revenue, just as traditional public schools are. But unlike school districts, they can't raise property taxes on their own so they also receive what's called local replacement money. Most of that local replacement money comes from the state, but part of it comes from school districts. This fiscal year, nearly $78 million of that local replacement money came from the state and about $10 million came from school districts.
School districts, however, don't pay that money directly to charters. Rather, the state simply reduces the amount of money it sends to school districts based on each district's share of that local replacement money.
Powell says his bill would require property tax notices to show the cost to individual taxpayers of their school districts' share of local replacement money, based on funding formulas.
"It is absolutely objective and transparent and is not meant to create any controversy but only to provide more information to the taxpayer," Powell said.
Bleak said he wishes lawmakers would focus on bigger-picture funding issues.
"They're all public schools and educating our kids," Bleak said of charters and traditional schools, "and we should be viewing it from a more global standpoint."
Former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, ran a similar bill last year, HB392, that passed the House unanimously, despite concerns from some that the change could be confusing and misleading. That bill ultimately stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.