It was not my plan to comment on the election today, but reading the news this morning I came upon a statement by newly-elected Metro Councilman Scott Reed that should concern us all.
He called for reducing Jefferson County Public Schools’ revenue by 17 percent.
He may not have realized that’s what he did. What he said to Jacob Ryan of WFPL in an interview last night was that one of his first two priorities would be to drop the city’s occupational tax, because he believes business doesn’t like it.
But, even business groups support an excellent and well-equipped public education system. The occupational tax is one of the more important local revenue sources essential to our schools. The City of Louisville benefits from occupational taxes, too.
The occupational tax in Jefferson County provides 17.2 percent of the budget for its public school system. That local revenue source amounted to $148,215,000 for the district’s 100,000+ students during the 2015-16 school year.
The state’s funding formula for education is complex. It is set up to provide more money to poorer districts, leaving wealthier ones, like Jefferson and Boone, to make up the gap with local revenue sources.
Eight school districts in Kentucky levy an occupational tax: The City of Anchorage, Boone County, Cumberland County, Fayette County, Jefferson County, Marshall County, Scott County and Warren County. Our neighbor, Oldham County, does not levy an occupational tax, but that county’s property tax is significantly higher than Louisville, and there’s not much of an occupational base there.
Overall, local revenue has increased in recent years and has made up for funding gaps from the federal and state levels. State funding has been relatively flat for almost 10 years. And, except for the “stimulus” funding during the recession, federal funding has been flat, too.
If you don’t like occupational taxes, some other solid financial plan will have to be put into place. But we don’t seem to be in a time of creating new revenue sources for public sector initiatives, so staying the course is most likely the best idea.
I think that casual mentions of consequential actions such as this should be more carefully considered.
Public education is a big deal. Kentucky has always treated it as a big deal.
The only way Kentucky will continue to make progress – and it has made significant progress – is to support our high expectations by providing necessary resources and supporting the professionals who teach.
It is time for public education advocates to take stock of where we are, and fight together to support the schools that educate every child that shows up – no matter what.
(Note: Scott Reed will be representing me on the Metro Council – District 16. I have great respect for outgoing Councilman Kelly Downard, who has served our community well, and has been supportive of me when I served on the school board and also helped my neighborhood. I wish Mr. Reed good luck in this important role.)