State-by-state comparison of school bond and tax laws
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- For a state-by-state comparison table see State by state comparison of school finance transparency
The first vital category on comparing how states handle public school financing is transparency. Transparency is critical in providing information to taxpayers, the public, and to the media in how school districts and state governments spend taxpayer money.
There are critical transparency measures in comparing states in school bond and tax laws. These include
Posting checkbooks online
Posting checkbooks online is a measure enacted by law that requires school districts post their checkbooks online. Some states require all expenditures to be posted online or some states require all expenditures over a minimum dollar amount to be posted.
Some states also do post teacher and administrative salaries online. When a state requires school districts to post its checkbooks online, this encourages districts to be transparent with the money it spends.
Posting contracts online
To require school districts to post contracts online is a law that requires schools districts to disclose contracts they entered with private vendors. Some states require all contracts to be posted online. Others may set a minimum threshold of the contract's dollar amount as the online posting requirement.
Knowing contracts can be helpful in the event new projects involving bond issues are considered. People can look at a district's past history with certain contractors and how much the contracts are worth.
The stimulus bill is considered as a metric with the requirement that all states must uphold standards of accountability and transparency if they accept stimulus money. A state is considered transparent with stimulus money if they fully disclose which school districts received money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The money that is received could be to fix budget shortfalls while some districts receive money to upgrade school lunch and Title I programs. Stimulus funding is not considered permanent and this is considered one-time money.
Elections results is another measure of a state's transparency on school bond and tax elections. States are measured if they have a central database listing school bond and tax elections results. Some state governments post the results while others may be posted by a private organization like a school boards or municipal government association.
Voter accountability and oversight
For a state-by-state comparison table see State by state school bond voter accountability measures
Voter accountability and oversight encompasses uses a variety of factors that empower voters to hold school districts accountable for its budgeting and spending decisions. Also, oversight gives state governments the tools make sure school districts are not abusing state resources like bonding and other loans.
Bond issue restrictions
Most states have restrictions on bond issues. This may include that bonds may not be sold above or below normal par values. Also, some states limit the interest rate and the amount of years it takes a bond to reach its maturity. Some states do not restrict bond issues and give bonds the full faith and credit of the state.
If in the event a school district defaults on a bond issue, a school district may lose state aid which may be the law in some states.
Some states have their school bond and tax laws protected by their respective state constitutions. Having a debt limit or bond issue law protected in the state constitution makes it harder for legislators to change the law. In most cases, a referendum is required to approve such changes to constitutionally protected laws.
State government approval
Some states require school districts desiring to issue new bonds to receive approval from the state government. The approval may come from the state treasurer, the state department of education, or the Attorney General in most cases. The purpose for state government approval is states may have a limit on how much bonding they can grant, or making sure school districts are seeking funding for capital projects in a responsible fashion.
Some states require a super-majority vote in order to pass a school bond and tax election. In the states that have super-majority vote, the requirement varies from 57.15 percent to 66.67 percent. Oregon is the only state to express its super-majority vote in terms of reaching a threshold on voter turnout regardless if the referendum fails or passes.
For a state-by-state comparison table see State by state comparison of school bond election administration.
Elections administration talks about how states set the process for school districts seeking to place referendums on the ballot to raise taxes or issue new bonds.
A mandatory cool-off period simply requires school districts to wait a period of time before asking the voters again in the event of a defeated ballot question. This is used to keep school districts from asking voters repeatedly to approve or deny new bonding or tax increases.
The first part of elections administration is the actual process. Do states have a clearly defined procedure for what school districts must do to qualify a measure. This includes from required notice calling a resolution to how a question is worded. When looking at a clearly defined procedure, does a state go beyond the state statutes to explain the process further
Some states ban special elections, while some states run school bond elections as special elections regardless when the election is held. In the states that allow special elections for school bonds and taxes, there are restrictions on how a district can conduct a special election. These requirements may include that districts follow a mandatory public notice requirement or can only hold the election held on certain dates stated by law.