Editorials

Betting $20,000 that Mascoutah kids can get $4 million

The Mascoutah High School Junior ROTC Drill Team members perform precision drills during a Veterans Day ceremony in 2011. Their school district lost $4 million in federal heavily impact aid used to educate military dependents from nearby Scott Air Force Base because the district was unable to shift property tax rates to meet a federal formula.
The Mascoutah High School Junior ROTC Drill Team members perform precision drills during a Veterans Day ceremony in 2011. Their school district lost $4 million in federal heavily impact aid used to educate military dependents from nearby Scott Air Force Base because the district was unable to shift property tax rates to meet a federal formula. tvizer@bnd.com

Mascoutah School District 19 is betting $20,000 that it can win $4 million from the federal government. That may be a smart bet, but it is lousy that tax dollars must be spent to attract tax dollars.

The district is not to blame for that dynamic. Federal rules and state law are the co-conspirators here.

Mascoutah is one of 28 districts in the United States that has a big federal facility putting many students into its district but no property taxes. You can’t tax taxpayer-funded facilities such as Scott Air Force Base.

So there is a special federal funding mechanism called heavily imact aid, which two years ago put an extra $4 million into the Mascoutah school coffers to educate all those military dependents from the base. The problem is the federal formula requires the district property tax levies be at or above 95 percent of the state average for levies. But the state laws cap certain levies that the district imposes.

If the $20,000-lobbyist is successful, the state law will be changed so Mascoutah schools can raise the right property tax levies to make the state average numbers. They will lower other levies so the net effect on property taxpayers is zero increase.

That’s a whole lot of technical finagling to get state and federal stars to align so the kids get back the $4 million that was taken this and last year. It will be 2017 before the formula catches up and there is a chance of the money coming back.

Did you get all that? Tax dollars chase tax dollars because tax-supported property doesn’t pay taxes.

Sheesh.

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