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Tax transparency

Published January 30, 2013 1:01 am

Identify sums that go to charters
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Many Utahns are still just a bit in the dark about charter schools.

These non-traditional public schools are relatively new, but over the past decade the number of charters has risen consistently until now there are 85 in the Beehive State.

But the function, purpose, organization, oversight and, especially, funding of charters are not clearly understood by many Utah residents whose taxes pay for the schools.

That makes Rep. Kraig Powell's bill in the just-opened Utah legislative session important.

Powell, R-Heber City, says transparency is the goal of HB264, which would require property tax notices to include the amount going toward charter schools. Powell is right that taxpayers should know more about where their money is going, how those funds are being spent. They deserve to know that some of the property tax dollars labeled now as going to their local school districts are going to charter schools.

As he rightly reasons, taxpayers might think the amount on the school district line item on their property-tax bill pays only for the traditional public schools in their district and that the schools are all overseen by the school boards they elected. The fact is, in most districts, some of that money supports charter schools that are overseen by a state charter board that is not elected.

The funding mechanism for charter schools is not straightforward, but that is not, as some opponents of this bill have argued, a reason to avoid giving taxpayers more information than they now have.

Charters, like traditional public schools, are funded largely through income tax revenue. But unlike school districts, they can't raise property taxes on their own to supplement the income-tax money they get. So charters also get what's called local replacement money.

Most of the local replacement money comes from the state education fund, but school districts are required to contribute by giving up some of the money they get from property tax.

This fiscal year, nearly $78 million of local replacement money came from the state and about $10 million came from school districts.

Powell's bill is neutral on the issue of charter schools in general. It merely lets taxpayers know that some of the property tax they pay to their districts for their children's schools goes to charter schools.

It's a matter of transparency, not ideology. The Legislature should support it.