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Members of a Utah legislative task force on Monday voted against placing charter school funding on property tax notices and also adopted a bill that would reallocate $9 million in state and local funds for the alternative public schools.
School district administrators have argued for years that the funding they are required to raise for charter schools should be delineated for taxpayers.
And Sandy Republican Rep. Steven Eliason, who co-chairs the Charter Funding Task Force, said a tax notice would be a simple and cost-free way to inform Utahns on how their property-tax dollars are spent.
"It's good policy to argue for greater transparency," he said.
But debate over how the notice would be formatted, and exactly what information it would include, preceded a vote showing opposition by the majority of the task force, including the chairmen of the state school board and state charter school board and Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Herriman Republican Rep. John Knotwell said a single line item on a tax notice could confuse taxpayers who are unfamiliar with the state's methods for funding charter schools.
"I would be concerned if I was a charter school and I started getting phone calls," he said.
The task force did support adoption of a draft bill that changes the formulas for charter school funding.
Under the bill, charter school enrollment would no longer be based on an annual headcount taken in October, but instead would be based on the same average daily attendance formula used for school districts.
The charter headcount method is scheduled to sunset next year, and task force members voted allow that method to lapse, which would cost charter schools roughly $7.5 million.
That change, which is scheduled to occur next year unless lawmakers intervene, will cost charter schools roughly $7.5 million statewide.
But charters would more than make up that loss under the remaining terms of the draft bill, which expands the local replacement formula used to divert property tax funds from school districts to charter coffers.
Lawmakers approved a $75 million statewide property tax last year to fund schools. But Stephenson said charters were inadvertently excluded from those funds because they were not included in the local replacement statute.
"It was never my intent to exclude charters from getting their portion of that," he said.
Under the proposed changes, Utah's 41 school districts would contribute an additional $3.7 million to charter schools, with another $13 million coming from the state. That $16.7 million would more than cover the aforementioned $7.5 million shortfall.
The draft bill originally called for school district transportation funding to be added to the local replacement formula, but that provision was removed at the urging of Hurricane Republican Rep. Brad Last, who argued that charters don't have the same busing needs as traditional schools.
"They are not mandatory schools," Last said of charters. "If you're going to go to those schools you accept that they will be different and that you may need to work with your neighbors or take personal responsibility to get your students there."
One out of every 10 public education students in the state attends a charter school.
As enrollment has grown, so has the property tax revenue paid by school districts, reaching more than $17 million for the 2015-2016 school year.
Cade Douglass, superintendent of the Sevier School District, said his districts makes the best use of its taxpayer funding and it is difficult to hand a portion of that revenue over to schools that the district does not oversee.
"We're functioning on the dollars we have to get the outcomes we have," he said. "We can't just give up money and expect to still function."