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Education Reporter

Regional Vocational School Districts Increase Taxes and Bureaucracy

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States in active pursuit of school reform seek "public-private partnerships" with businesses/industry, policy makers, educators, and community leaders in order to form regional vocational education districts that promote "seamless" transitions for students into the "real world" of work.

The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Labor have endorsed School-to-Work curriculum and national skills standards — initiatives that are being promoted in the United States as a result of international agreements and declarations.

State commerce departments have developed regional economic clusters that figure prominently in anticipating what skills will be needed in the workforce, and determining what corresponding changes in school curricula and training are deemed essential, including industry certification, for example.

More taxes, more bureaucracy 
Separate, overlay school districts, with taxing capabilities, can be established among contiguous districts to generate and direct increased funding to vocational and technological initiatives.

In Oklahoma, these are called "technology center school districts," and pursuant to Article X of the Oklahoma Constitution, "such districts are authorized to become indebted separate and apart from the indebtedness of any school district included in the technology center school district up to five percent (5%) of the net valuation of taxable property."

In Ohio, a similar entity is a "joint vocational school district," and Kansas has "area vocational-technical schools."

The Joint Technological Education District (JTED), permitted with laws enacted in 1990 in Arizona, encountered scrutiny when the Joint Legislative Audit Committee asked for a report from the Auditor General, to analyze a rural and an urban JTED.

Still vocational education 
Vocational Education or Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs exist in schools throughout the nation. As explained in a Dec. 2004 Arizona Auditor General report: "most JTED courses are actually 'satellite courses' taught at high schools. Although these courses receive additional funding as JTED courses, they are essentially the same as other high school vocational courses."

Triple dipping; overstating ADM 
Average Daily Membership (ADM), as calculated for state funding, is an average of the number of students enrolled in a school. Students in Arizona have been legally counted for up to 2.0 ADM — i.e., 1.0 in district high school, and another 1.0 for the JTED. Since JTEDs may establish partnerships with community college districts, students could enroll for college credit, and be counted a third time for 1.0 ADM state funding.

Besides triple funding, the JTEDs studied also overstated ADM, costing the state additional millions of dollars. Vocational courses were "being converted to JTED Satellite courses, with significant cost implications for the state." According to the Auditor General report, the JTED funding method "is less efficient than directly funding the districts' vocational education courses."

In 2002, Arizona legislators placed a moratorium on the formation of new JTEDs and limited the ability of new districts to join existing JTEDs. The sponsor of the bill to impose the moratorium, Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, said that districts were receiving extra state funding "for keeping the students right on campus and in some cases providing the same services to the child as they had originally." The moratorium has been amended and extended.

Legislators enacted changes in the law that became effective in August 2005. Total ADM for a student enrolled in satellite courses provided by a JTED on a campus or in a facility owned by the school district in which the student is concurrently enrolled cannot exceed 1.25.

In spite of the moratorium, JTED ADM has more than doubled. In the spring of 2005, Arizona legislators lifted the moratorium only for Pima County, so voters there will be asked in November to approve a JTED, which would encompass twelve more school districts.

Raising tax rates 
When the JTED issue is on the ballot, voters are generally assured that the cost will be no more than five cents per $100,000 assessed secondary property valuation. However, JTEDs throughout Arizona have subsequently raised their levies. The Northern Arizona Technological Institute of Vocational Education, a JTED with the acronym "NATIVE," raised its tax rate 2400% from $.05 to $1.25. A number of counties with concerns about the legalities of increasing the tax levies requested guidance from the Arizona Attorney General, but an opinion has not been issued.

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