Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Daniels reform proposal and school bonds

From Jeff Abbott, an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation-- in the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette (hat tip: Jeff/NA News-Tribune, although it's not on their website)...

Abbott makes an important point: changing the process, without changing the actors, the incentives, or the information is unlikely to result in markedly different (or better) outcomes.

Indiana has a petition-remonstrance process that allows local taxpayers a say in whether a proposed bond issue will be allowed to proceed. Less than one-half of such remonstrances, however, are won by protesting taxpayers. Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed replacing this with a referendum process whereby voters would decide proposed school bond issues up or down. But will it be any better?

The answer depends on the data used in whatever process is adopted.

Both sides of a proposed bond issue typically play to emotions. The school boards piously proclaim “it’s for the kids” and that the future of the community rests upon the approval of the proposed project. The remonstrators might just as loudly proclaim that businesses will leave and many retirees, poor people and even middle-class residents will lose their homes to foreclosure because they won’t be able to pay the higher property taxes.

School bond issue campaigns in Indiana are always long on rhetoric and short on facts. What is needed is just the opposite. The referendum process as proposed by the governor may be just as doomed as the current petition-remonstrance process. That is because it doesn’t matter which process is used.

Substantial changes in data collecting, data analyzing and data dissemination need to occur. Data need to speak directly to the question: Can a particular community afford the school bond issue before it?

The criteria and guidelines used by the state and local school boards are inadequate to answer that question....

Three indexes have been constructed to help a community address those questions: 1) a school-district affordability index; 2) a community-affordability index; and 3) an individual and family affordability index. These indexes incorporate 54 possible quantitative measurements as criteria for determining affordability.

Without the use of such quantitative data, regardless of whether the governor’s reform is approved, Indiana school bond campaigns will continue to be long on rhetoric and short on facts-- to the detriment of Indiana citizens who must ultimately make decisions on school-construction issues.

The longer version-- a "white paper"-- is available here-- through the IPR's website.


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