Introduction to the Property Tax–School Funding Connection

Property taxation and school funding are closely linked in the United States. Forty-five percent of total public K–12 education revenues come from local governments and 80 percent of the local share comes from property taxes. In a well-structured school finance system, both major funding sources—property tax and state aid—will ensure that schools can provide an adequate education for all students equitably and efficiently.

Introduction to the Property Tax–School Funding Connection presents resources designed to promote basic understanding of the relationship between property taxation and public K–12 education funding.


Policy Focus Reports

Rethinking the Property Tax–School Funding Dilemma
Daphne A. Kenyon, Bethany Paquin, and Andrew Reschovsky

This report updates The Property Tax–School Funding Dilemma, a Lincoln Institute Policy Focus Report published in 2007. It describes the joint role of the property tax and state aid in funding public K–12 education, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each funding source, presents case studies of five states, and concludes with a dozen recommendations. Some recommendations seek to make the local property tax more equitable and efficient; others suggest ways to improve state aid.

Working Papers

What Makes a Fair School Finance System?
Andrew Reschovsky

This working paper explores the complexities involved in defining fair and equitable school funding. In defining fairness, state policy makers must address several issues such as differences between taxpayer equity and student equity, equity of educational inputs versus educational outcomes, and the question of placing limits on the education spending of property-wealthy communities. The author defines five different goals that have driven school funding policies over the past 50 years.

Designing School Aid Formulas to Achieve High-Quality and Equitable Education
Andrew Reschovsky

A companion to What Makes a Fair School Finance System, this paper describes the school funding formulas necessary to achieve five broad funding goals that have driven school finance policies over the past 50 years. It explains the formulas state governments use and highlights two states, one with a successful funding system and one that is less successful in achieving its funding goals. The paper recommends ways to design state school aid formulas to achieve high-quality and equitable education.

Effects of Reducing the Role of the Local Property Tax in Funding K-12 Education
Daphne Kenyon and Semida Munteanu

Between 1989 and 2018, 24 states increased their reliance on the local property tax, while 25 states decreased theirs. This paper reviews the literature on school funding and business cycles and the effects of revenue volatility on education outcomes. It also explores the experience of four states that decreased reliance on the local property tax (Michigan, Kansas, South Carolina, and New Hampshire), analyzing the impact on school funding during recessions, the level and growth of per-pupil school spending, and the equity of per-pupil school spending.

New Hampshire: Heavy Property Tax Reliance on Longstanding School Finance Litigation
Semida Munteanu, Bethany Paquin, and Sydney Zelinka

New Hampshire does not levy a broad-based sales or income tax and therefore is the state most reliant on property taxes. In 1999, New Hampshire dramatically changed its system of school aid and implemented a statewide education property tax (SWEPT), which is levied and retained by local governments. Although the SWEPT was adopted to meet the state’s requirement for funding an adequate education, the state has been subject to numerous school finance lawsuits about the inadequacy of state aid. This paper explores New Hampshire’s unique tax structure and its role in funding public K–12 education, describes the history of school finance litigation and legislative response, analyzes what adequacy and equity mean for state school finance systems and student achievement, and considers options for improving school finance equity.

Land Lines Articles

Public Schools and the Property Tax: A Comparison of Education Funding Models in Three U.S. States
Daphne Kenyon, Bethany Paquin, and Semida Munteanu

This article is excerpted from the Lincoln Institute Policy Focus Report Rethinking the Property Tax–School Funding Dilemma, and from a Lincoln Institute working paper,  “Effects of Reducing the Role of the Local Property Tax in Funding K–12 Education.”


Webinar Series: The Property Tax-School Funding Connection

This webinar series explores the experience of three states that have enacted various types of property tax limitations and their efforts to ensure continued adequate funding for public education. Presenters from each state assess the effectiveness of those efforts and suggest possible policy reforms.

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