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Is the funding deal good for education?

Johnson City Press • Feb 10, 2020 at 6:00 AM

A partial resolution to a drawn out disagreement between the Johnson City and Washington County over education funding seems to be at hand.

Last week, according to Senior Reporter Robert Houk, the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee approved a $12.5-million arrangement to send funding for building projects to the city.

The $500,000-per-year allocation, though still not approved by the full commission, is meant as an answer to city officials who, since the new Boones Creek school was contracted, have claimed the county was acting against the spirit of state education capital spending laws.

Those laws require the county to share recurring education spending equally among all students within the county, including those attending schools in the city district, and to split borrowed funds for capital projects, but, for two large-scale school projects now, the county has avoided an even split.

For the Boones Creek K-8, the county partially paid for the building in cash using a capital projects fund paid for by a tax increase. Now, for the new Jonesborough school, the county and Jonesborough struck a deal whereby Jonesborough will borrow for the building, and the county will make lease payments until the borrowed $32 million is paid off.

County officials say they’re trying to equalize funding disparities between the students in the city and county districts. City leaders claim the county is disregarding its responsibility to fund education for all students within its borders.

So now, it appears the county is willing to put $500,000 each year for 25 years into a fund for city schools.

Washington County Commissioner Jodi Jones said the agreement was a “really good first step” to deal with the school funding issue, but city school officials worry the county may continue funding capital needs with go-betweens.

Johnson City Board of Education members said they wished the county had agreed to not try to avoid sharing capital spending equally in the future.

It’s both a pocketbook issue and deals with education, so we wanted to ask you. Is the funding deal good for local education? Should it set a precedent for how county tax dollars are spent? Are there better solutions for equitable education spending?

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