Legislation to Change School Districts' Wealth Measurement
Russell, a Democrat from Theresa, has introduced legislation that will adjust the way school districts' wealth is measured. Generally speaking, the poorer a district is, the more aid it gets. But it’s not a true sliding scale at the top and bottom ends.
Right now, the poorest districts are all lumped together in the same category, even though some may be much poorer than others. The same is true of the richest districts – they're all seen on equal footing, even though some may be much richer than others.
In effect, this drives less money to the poorest of the poor districts and more money to the richest ones. Russell says that's a real problem when aid is being cut.
When school aid funding increases, the inequity in the formula is not as problematic. But when funding is cut, the problem is serious. Local schools are feeling the brunt of the cuts, while wealthy school districts are essentially unaffected.
That's because poor school districts rely more heavily on state aid, while wealthy districts can draw from a deeper property tax base. Russell says many north country school districts are hurt by this arbitrary threshold since they fall into that lowest category. Russell's legislation would raise the threshold for wealthy school districts and lower it for poor ones, allowing the state to better distinguish between the poorest and richest districts as it distributes aid.
Rusell says the proposal would cost the state more money, but she'd like to see increased taxes on the wealthy help fund more aid to schools.