Tuesday, June 03, 2008

City Council Schools Memphis On Tax Equity

In its decisive vote to cut funding for Memphis City Schools, Memphis City Council showed the political courage and the new thinking that are becoming characteristics of this overhauled, and dramatically improved, legislative body.

Last year, when more a super majority of the Council was replaced, political observers thought – or at least hoped – that they would usher in a new approach to the city’s business.

Nothing punctuated the change more than yesterday’s vote to take city funding for city schools from $93 million down to $20 million. Because of this cut, the Council set the city property tax rate at $3.25, a drop of 18 cents.

The Longest Journey Begins

That may not sound like much to some people, but to us, it was a start.

It was in fact the first step in a journey toward a fairer tax structure, one that addresses the disincentive that Memphians pay to live within the city limits.

It is inarguable that there is no public service more important than public education. And yet, the tax system funding public services must be equitable and even-handed. The tax structure in Memphis is just the opposite.

Reverse Logic

Memphians not only have the highest combined city-county tax burden of any Tennesseans, but our tax structure is built on the backs of people who can least afford it. The poorer you are in Memphis, the more you pay in taxes as a percentage of your income.

The average tax burden for 51 cities across the U.S. – the largest city in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia - was 7.3 percent for families earning $25,000; 8.3 percent for families earning $50,000; 9.1 percent earning $75,000; and 9.2 percent at the $100,000 and $150,000 levels.

In other words, most cities have a tax structure that responds to a person’s “ability to pay.” Meanwhile, Memphis’ is antithetical.

Facing Facts

The more a family earns, the less it pays. The family earning $25,000 pays 7.0 percent, right in line with the average for the 51 cities. But, the family earning $50,000 doesn’t pay more. It pays less – 6.2 percent. A family earning $75,000 pays 6.3 percent, one-third less than the national average; and the $100,000 income family pays 5.9 percent and the family earning $150,000 pays 5.6 percent.

In other words, the higher income brackets in Memphis pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than families making one-fourth as much. These Memphis high-income families are paying roughly 40 per cent less than the average of 51 cities.

That’s because government has an overreliance on property taxes and sales taxes when compared to other governments across the U.S. With no real options except the two primary tax sources allowed by state law, city and county governments are left with two inequitable places to go for more revenues – the regressive sales tax or the regressive property tax.

Mandated Services

While local efforts to expand tax sources are well-intended, in the end, the current tax structure is so badly flawed that even new sources are just stopgap answers that don’t address the fundamental flaws in the system.

That’s why the Memphis City Council had no choice but to target the services that it is not mandated to provide, but more to the point, it had to look at services that are legally the responsibility of Shelby County Government but are funded by City of Memphis.

Education topped that list, but we expect that the $13 million spent on health services will be next. Like schools, county governments are mandated to fund health departments in Tennessee.

Up And Out

We know the City Council cut in funding for schools is not the optimal way to create public policy, but it’s clear that doing the same thing and expecting different results is not only the definition of insanity, but the definition of political myopia at City Hall.

After all, we’ve been talking for 30 years about putting all school funding where it belongs – on Shelby County’s larger tax base. We’ve also been talking way too long about making the Memphis tax burden more rational, and despite all the talk, nothing had changed.

Meanwhile, the city tax rate has moved up and the middle class has moved out.

Open To Interpretation

While some people want to interpret yesterday’s decision as a vote of no confidence in Memphis City Schools, that was never the primary motivation for the Council. It was always more about tax equity.

Those who attacked the Council yesterday for failing to value our children simply missed the point. It’s not city government’s job to educate our kids, and any way, it’s pretty hard to argue in a city where schools spend $1 billion a year in operating and capital funding that we’re not doing enough for our children.

It seems to us that this is a message that’s not lost on the taxpayers of Memphis. They place the high Memphis tax burden as the second most troubling problem in their city (after crime). It also is, after crime, the reason that the middle class voted with their feet. The public’s understanding of this problem seemed to be reflected in yesterday’s turnout at the Council meeting. With 16,000 employees and 113,000 students, the school district was able to mobilize about 200 people to show up for the meeting.

Right On The Money

While the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioner may object to the cut in funding, they seem to understand that City Council should rightly be considering precisely this kind of issue. In this regard, Board Chair Tomeka Hart set the proper tone when she said: “It is a conversation that the City Council has to have. They have every right to decide what role municipalities play in the school system.”

It was an example of statesmanship that is often lacking in local public affairs, and was especially impressive in light of the intemperate emails that she has been receiving from City Council member and former school board member Wanda Halbert.

Councilman Bill Morrison was precisely correct when he said that the vote on school funding was about “equalization” of the city tax burden. The Council’s objective is to reduce the tax rate below $3 in the next couple of years, but its ultimate objective must be to pursue a strategy that levels the fiscal playing field by making the Memphis tax rate comparable to Germantown and Collierville.

Conversation Changer

That of course can’t be achieved by cuts in services or responsibilities, but requires a new discussion with Shelby County Government about rationalizing the local tax structure with a fiscal equity plan that assigns local services to the appropriate tax base, such as putting regional amenities like museums and arenas on the broader tax base of county government.

We’ve said here before that often it’s not that we’re coming up with the wrong answers in Memphis. More to the point, we’re not even having the right conversation.

With its vote to cut school funding, Memphis City Council served notice that the conversation is definitely shifting to the right one.

17 comments:

George Lord said...

I will not try to argue with the logic of your position as stated here. However, I will argue that there is a more logical way to get where we might want to be from here than the one the city council has now taken.

When the current council members were running for election each candidate I had the opportunity to vote for espoused their intent to do something to strengthen education in Memphis. Knowing that they had little impact on education, I asked each candidate exactly how they would do this. The only logical answer I got was from Bill Morrison. He stated that he would use the $93M the city council provided to the city schools to pressure them for accountability and change. I believe he has now squandered the opportunity to do just that.

Many would say I am a big critic of MCS, and I am critical of them; however, I am also a huge supporter of public education. The term I would use is "critical friend." The research in recent years shows that public education in the US, with all of its flaws, is doing a better job of educating kids than are private schools, charter schools, religious schools, or enduation of any other stripe.

Keeping in mind that the self imposed additional tax which the city of Memphis has provided to the school district since 1937 was created with the understanding that the basic education being provided in the rural areas of the surrounding counties was not enough. Clearly, the political leaders of Memphis in the past realized that this was not enough for the growth of a vibrant city.

This is perhaps even more true today that in the past. The challenges of poverty the city now faces will continue to be reflected in the schools. The crime, the thugs, and the drugs encountered in the schools are a reflection of the community the schools are in.

To view this action as purely about tax equalization is short sighted; one might say penny wise and pound foolish. The opportunity the city council had to use the funding to create real accountability within MCS has now been squandered and moved us away from the discussion of efficiency and accountability of a system which is in desperate need for greater transparency and accountability; teh twin pillars of change which you have argued for on this blog on numerous occasions.

Long range planning for the shift of the tax base to the county coupled with the use of a small portion of the $93M for creating an external monitoring system for accountability by the system would have provided us with two successes.

First, it would have rationally dealt with the problems of equalization of the tax burden which you accurately point out is needed in the community; and this especially so as the need for greated investment in schools is just as real tody in Shelby County and the surrounding counties as it is in Memphis. Second, it would have addressed the problems of transparency and accountability which are so desperately needed in this district.

I am not certain how we get there from here now. But I hope we will keep out eye on this prize. As you well know better education is a major and necessary part of the strategy needed to move the city to a higher level of success.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear. Education is obviously important, but as a single person without children who chooses to live in the city of Memphis despite all of the white flight and 'hood bashing, I have to say I am relieved to finally not pay a penalty for not being one adding to suburban sprawl. I think that the county should be penalized, not the city, because their sprawl and running away from problems causes more regional problems than us folk living in the city. And maybe, just maybe, with this cut in funding, they will have to think creatively to work out the best education possible for area children.

Anonymous said...

george - most of your post is true, that said, it's also fundamentally flawed.
the county residents have a better education system evidenced by all indicators, yet county residents do not pay a premium for the system.
memphis residents pay a premium for a defective system. how does that make sense?

louisville and nashville metro schools operate with less of a budget than mcs. both of those systems are also comparable with size and population. they operate on less than $800MM; mcs budget is $970MM. it's obvious that more money will not get you a better system and why would a responsible city council person throw good money after bad? this vote does not prevent funding it only eliminates the obligation for funding. if mcs can show and prove themselves worthy for the premium, i believe, most people will back the council with restoring funding.

George said...

Dear Anonymous 12:52.

Thank you for your comment. First, let's get some agreement on the data. Neither Davidson-Nashville, TN schools nor Jefferson County (Louisville), KY schools are the same size nor do they have the same budget as MCS. I get this data from www.schoolmatters.com which is sponsored by Standards and Poors. In 2005 ( the mostrecent comparable financial data available form all three systems, the respective student body sizes reported were MCS - 120,275, Jefferson - 90,366, and Davidson-Nashville - 72,713; and spending per child was $7,618, $7,427, and $8,087 respectively.

Then let's look at the students they are serving: MCS has 73.4% economically disadvantaged while the numbers for Davidson and Jefferson are 57.5% and 58.5% respectively. They are not comparable on any of these dimensions. Further, the reserach is consistent in pointing to the greater needs regarding education faced by children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

We can have a lengthier debate later on whether these two systems are providing a better education or not. Just to give you a heads up, I will argue that they are and they aren't. But this argument will require much more data and analysis than this space allows.

Add to this that Memphis does have a number of very high quality, especially optional, programs. In fact these were the parents at the City Council meeting yesterday pleading because they believe they will be the first programs cut as they are not state mandated. These programs attract students from outside the district becasue of their quality.

Finally let me address the question I believe is central to your post, because we may not be as far apart as you might think, " Memphis residents pay a premium for a defective system." There are a number of problems in the system. Not the least of which is things like no-bid contracts for transportation which has resulted in Memphis paying more than Nashville Davidson pays for less transportation. Add to this the various forms of inefficiencies and illegal activities which have hit the radar in recent months and we have a right as citizens to be upset. Notice however, none of these have no direct link to the quality of teaching in our district. We have many good teachers and administrators. Like most employers, we also have some who are not doing as good a job. We need to support the good and better understand those providing less to our children so that we might improve.

What we don't have a right to do is create chaos in our school system which will harm our children. The future of our city is linked to the quality of our school system.

What I am arguing is that the City Council has made two errors in the recent action; (1) cutting too much too soon, a rational plan is needed to address the funding of MCS and the continued need to consolidate the two school systems in the county and (2) squandered the opportunity to use the current crisis to create the reform necessary. This could be done by using some of the $93.5M to establish a rigorous accountability system that will deliver the efficiencies and a rational approach for transforming the structure of our two school systems.

Smart City Consulting said...

George:

Great discussion. I wouldn't give the political leaders of the 1930s too much credit for visionary leadership for education. They really had little choice. That was back in the days when although Memphians made up the bulk of the county's population, the majority of county legislators were from outside Memphis and they showed the expected preference for services there, including schools. City leaders were left with little option but to pay for their schools until state law and Supreme Court decisions forced the county to be representative and fair. The truth is that city government should have eliminated its funding for public education decades ago and that we instituted a single source funding arrangement.

You've made the powerful point previously that schools cannot turn around the lives of many students because it is the anchor of poverty that pulls them under and it's unfair to expect schools alone to be the answer. Would city government be better off spending its money on these root causes and allow county government to act on its constitutional responsibility to fund schools?

Finally, there are legal opinions that say that neither of the local governments can attach strings to its money for education, either through mandated programs from city and county governments nor through requirements for measurable results, and as a result, it could even be possible for the school board to resist Council efforts to increase accountability. In other words, it is possible that a great idea such as the external monitoring system could be seen as illegal interference in the powers of the board and administration to set the policies and programs of the board.

Again, great comments.

Chuck said...

Dear George:

The City Council could have doubled school funding and there would still be poor grades and central administrators unable to cope with the realty that a culture in poverty keeps recycling every 15 years.

The dual funding source of Memphis City Schools confuses the accountability, which concerns you and Bill Morrison. MCS and other agencies have played both sides of Main Street for many years to obfuscate accountability. Sometimes negotiation using the funding lever just doesn’t work.

I agree that tax inequity is not the cause of poor education outcomes. A million from here and a million from there adds up to the same as 2 million from everywhere. However, until we get one policy body with school oversight, we will not be able to use funding as leverage. Until we consolidate city and county governments and schools, we will have a duality that is confusing and ultimately unaccountable.

By eliminating City of Memphis funding from MCS, we move one step toward single source accountability.

Anonymous said...

george - i'm anon 12:52.

i've seen numbers for the louisville system, their annual statement, the number was over 95,000. you may be correct with nashville. all of the references for mcs are around 115,000 to 116,000. i think we can agree that the difference between 80,000 and 115,000 students is not large enough to say they are not comparable.

i would agree that mcs may have higher economically disadvantaged children but that should not drive the costs to an extreme. the mcs data i've seen, and again you seem to be a lot closer to the numbers than i but they were over $8,000 per student. all of these numbers are relative but my main point still stands. you do not have to/need to pay more for a better system. from your own admission there are severe inefficiencies and because of the inefficiencies the funding does not trickle to the classroom. if the money does not make it to the student then why should mcs get the funding?

i do not know what you call a better education but sat and act scores are higher. the dropout rates are much lower than mcs. the reading and math scores are higher than mcs.

i agree that mcs could be better in execution but it is not the city council's job to make them more efficient. the execution of mcs rests with the school board and the mcs administration. the fiduciary job of city council job is fiscal responsibility. by your own admission mcs is inefficient thereby wasting city funds. by definition the council owes to the citizens a cut of funding. basically, the fight to correct the school system lives and dies with the school system.

George said...

To SC,
I probably overstated my position if I suggested that earlier city leaders were visionary leaders of education. What I should have said was that the extra funding of the thirties was to make sure that the city elite got a good education for their kids. The “vibrant city” I mentioned before was probably a euphemism for a city which allowed them to continue making the large sums of money which built some of the fine old homes in the city.

While I will concede that city government should have eliminated the unfair double taxation for schools that I and other residents of Memphis pay, and you don’t, the fact is they didn’t. So now we are left to resolve the problems left by history. Isn’t that always the case?

Yes, city government should do something about the poverty. Fact is, and many don’t want to talk about it, The Great Society, was working; we were reducing poverty in this country until Mr. Reagan was elected, alas, another historical problem.

Legal opinions are just that, opinions. I would argue that the city can make a grant with strings attached. If the school board wants to refuse the conditions of the grant let them. Many local governments do just that with everything from PILOT’s to local school funding.

Make a grant to the school district which requires some changes. Is asking for accountability so hard? The difference is that we have asked for it and not gotten it; now we say we want it or we don’t give you anymore money.

Please believe me, and I think you know this, I have no delusions that the members of the city council have any better ideas than do the members of the school board when it comes to education.

To Chuck,

I would take exception to your argument that a “culture of poverty” recycles every 15 years. Poverty is a permanent STRUCTURE in our economy.

I do agree that the dual system of funding is problematic, just as I did when we discussed it at lunch earlier today. I agree that single source accountability is the best thing we could have. I do not think that the shock therapy approach to change is the approach which will be least painful for the kids (and this from a former radical) and our school system.

The problem you raise regarding policy will not necessarily be resolved with one policy body. Rather a single policy body which is not a lay body, with little to no understanding of either education or management of a large (read billion dollar) organization, might begin to have a chance.

That will require governance change which I will be happy to discuss another time. In fact, I believe you already know my position on that.

To Anonymous,

In the relative leisure of my home this evening, I have taken the time to check the most recent data on the three school districts you mention. Jefferson County, KY 98,537 students and $9,026 per kid, Davidson-Nashville, TN 72,213 students and $8,606 per kid, finally Memphis, TN 120,275 students and $8,072 per kid; this data taken from the Common Core of Data at the National Center for Education Statistics in the USDOE (http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch/). This is all 2005-2006 data.

Please note that Memphis and Davidson both spend 10% on administration, given the way the feds count it, and Jefferson spends 11% on admin. Jefferson has 172 schools and 5,780 teachers, Davidson has 132 schools and 4,950 teachers, while Memphis has 194 schools and 7,085 teachers. They spend 20%, 19% and 20% respectively on operations costs.

The data I provided previously on economically disadvantaged is the best I can offer at the moment; approximately 22% more economically disadvantaged students. Hardly comparable on any measure.

Yes, they do better, especially on ACT and SAT scores. We still have school board members who are convinced that the majority of our students shouldn’t aspire to go to college. Our students start further behind, fall further behind every summer (but that is another argument with different data), and need more to catch up. Yes it does cost more and there are reasons why.

This is one of many reasons I favor consolidation of schools to spread the cost (I would also favor a state income tax if you need another reason to disagree with me). This argument reminds me of all the folks who say we shouldn’t just throw money at education; and all the while they are spending billions and billions more on the military for those famed $500 dollar hammers.

Fact is, most of us are willing to pay for education if we think it is good. Even you appear to be saying that.

Yes, I think MCS is less than efficient. There are several ways to document this, simply look at the MGT study of several years ago for the quickest. There are other government agencies which are inefficient and there are for profit organizations that are inefficient; I used to do some consulting for General Motors. We don’t seem to be going after them.

We are going after the school system because we are angry with the inefficiency and some of the other recent outrages which they lack the political or communication capacity to deal with in a reasonable fashion.

I believe the City Council owes it to us to make sure there is as much efficiency as possible in every dollar of my taxes they spend. Including the $20M they agreed to give to MCS last night.

I apologize for the length of this post. And, yes this is a good discussion.

Ed reformer said...

Just a thought for what it's worth...

And let me preface my comments by saying I don't want to take a position either way on the city's council decision yesterday (I know that's not as fun on a blog site!). There is not an easy way for us to dissect the data to discern whether MCS has a bloated budget (or if critical items/people will have to be cut as a result of the council's decision). I think we all know what MCS will say, so I don't have to expound on that.

To address the back and forth on how much different school systems are spending per student - the truth is, nobody knows the optimal amount (and that applies to middle class kids or kids coming from the most disadvantaged communities). Throughout the nation, some districts spend more, some less and on and on – with various results, depending little on the amount of money spent. (Take a look at Washington DC if you want a poignant example.)

Money matters, to an extent. There are tangible costs of running a school (faculty, staff, books, facility, etc.), but let's not pretend there is a statistically significant positive correlation (to use pointless stat jargon) between money spent and student achievement.

The punchline is this....

Money aside, we have a lot of mediocre people in the education system. Don't believe me, go stroll through some of our city schools (….and like all assertions, there are exceptions to my statement).

I have had the pleasure of visiting many urban schools throughout the country - and seeing a lot of terrific teaching and fantastic results (from kids from unimaginably bad situations). I've also seen a lot of poorly performing schools. The interesting thing is that money had little to do with it.
Think about this straightforward example-

School A and School B spend the exact same on their facility, teachers, staff, etc. School A is intentional about getting the most talented teachers it can find (through a well executed recruiting strategy). It makes sure it has put a plan in place to continually develop these teachers; the school leader then creates a culture of excellence - high expectations, no excuses (we will get the most out of our kids no matter what their background is - after all, once they enter the school, they're our responsibility.)

The point being - does it cost more to create a culture of excellence – recruiting talented people and setting high expectations for students? This is not a made up example, I see this time and again. One school is on a mission, the other school makes excuses. Same amount of money, different results.

While I don't want to downplay how this council decision may affect the school system, fundamentally, I don’t think this decision will be the downfall of MCS. There are two choices of MCS – focus on what really matters to an education system – getting talented people; or two, they can wallow in the political muck, and make excuses of why they can’t prepare our kids to be successful adults.
We shall see

George said...

Dear EdReformer,

Very good points. I agree wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

george - anon 12:52
it's not like me to stake a position and draw a line.
we need to get these numbers straight. here is jefferson county data from the annual report. http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/Pubs/AnnualRpt.pdf
here is nashville data http://www.mnps.org/Page18649.aspx

the total budgets are $715MM and $591MM, respectively. if this number is true some quick and dirty math tells me your per student number is not correct or modified. if jefferson county has roughly 100K students budget $715MM then per student we are closer to $7150 than we are to $8000 per student. The same math would put nasville metro around $7500. using your student pop for mcs (120K) and the budget of $913MM the per student number is $7608. the reason these numbers are important is because they define the debate. Also, according to the jefferson county annual report the total budget spent on the central office is 5% not 10% like you suggest.

your data shows mcs spending less than nashville but my math shows mcs spending more per student than both nashville and jefferson county. logic and experience tells me that your per student data is modified, meaning it subtracts some costs from the total budget and divide by the number of students.

contrary to your belief, our opinions are closer than you think. i would be in favor of doubling how much we spend for mcs if they were effective. they have proven themselves as ineffective. i know there is data out there that suggests under privileged need more money. when i hear this data i can't help but think of children in china, africa, india and other poor countries that are succeeding in the classroom. they come here, the fortunate ones, and test better than our own kids both privileged and under-privileged. i don't accept the premise that the way to get under performers to perform is with money. in fact, catholic schools and the successful charter schools that work with this population suggest it costs less. www.sunflowerfreedom.org

you can't compare for profit business to government entities. most fortune five hundred companies are inefficient but the difference is when you add all the inefficiencies and bad processes up they must be lower than the revenue. if these inefficiencies exceed revenue the company goes out of business, not so with government entities.

Chuck said...

Dear George:

I said "culture in poverty", not "culture of poverty". There's a big difference.

Chuck

George said...

Anon 12:52,

We are probably going to have to agree to disagree about the numbers. The reason I went to the NCES for my data is that all of it is based on the districts answering the same set of questions to the feds and it is all for a clear time point. Take the $ and # of students you are using as a example. MCS has lost thousands of students in the past year alone and looking at #'s of studetns from one year and budgets from another distorts the data.

Case in point, the MCS 2005-2006 school year in NCES shows the 120K+ students and has a budget of $976,946,000. If we are going to make comparisons we must seek a unified data set with consistent definitions of how things are measured. The Common Core of Data at NCES strives to do that.

Your third world students coming to the US are doing well. The majority of them are from privileged families not the poorest of the poor. Look at the literacy rates and high school graduation rates in those same countries and you will find that very few can read and even fewer make it out of high school.

Throwing Charters and Catholic schools into this discussion will only muddy the water. There is much to discuss there as well. Like I said before, two major studies looking at NAEP have shown that overall public schools do as well or better than all other forms of schools (charters, christian, evangelical christians, catholic, charter, whatever) if we control for the economic disadvantaged. Yes there are some charters that are doing a good job and most doing well are doing things that the publics cannot do under current conditions (yet another argument).

Otherwise, I also said we probably agree on much about the central problems of MCS.

Dear Chuck,

Your are correct there is a big difference. It has to do with your causal arrow.

Michael said...

Your points about tax equity, tax flight, and regressive taxation are well taken. I applaud you and hope you will keep reminding us about it. Especially the regressive taxation, which to me is a crime.

However, not all of us consider tax equity the most important reason for the Council's action.

How about education equity? The schools across the county need to be brought under one, professional management -- and of course they should be funded by one tax. We want each and every child in the county to be equal -- to have the same opportunity for a first-class education. Perhaps I am biased, because I graduated from the best school system in the country, Montgomery County, Maryland. One system, equal opportunity, county-wide.

To borrow a phrase from an earlier era, "separate" is by definition not equal.

I am sick and tired of the "us vs. them" mentality here. It needs to be dismantled and sent to the dustbins of history.

But even within the City of Memphis, separate is not equal.

I watched the entirety of the City Council meeting and I sympathize with every Mom and Dad and teacher that spoke. But I wonder if most of them had children attending Snowden, or one of the other special schools. I don't begrudge that at all. One of my own attended that school. I would want every child in Memphis to have that same opportunity and quality of education, and I would gladly pay the tax rates needed to support it. But, as Councilman Boyd said, we need to remember that not every school in Memphis is a "Snowden." Our goal should be to make them all as good as Snowden.

The Council's action is drastic, but sometimes you need to blow things up in order to put them together again -- properly.

Michael Cromer
Memphis, TN

George said...

Michael,
I for one think your education equity point is central to everything at stake here. Only one question, are we sure that will be the outcome of the city council's action? I fear it is not.

There would be a new County School Board, in all likelihood made up of some amalgm of the two current school boards. Any faith that we will get something positive out of that?

Smart City Consulting said...

Michael:

Great observation.

It seems to us that when your car is in the ditch, it's way past time to quit worrying if it gets good gas mileage. If you get our point...

DaGreek said...

I am curious about the concept that seems to exist here that the county should fund all schools in that county. Yes, I know that is the law in TN, but it is not that way in all 50 states. Where I grew up, IN, IL and MA, and where my oldest children started school, TX, school funding and administration was all local independent districts.

There is a distinct advantage to this approach. Back when Dr. Herenton was the superintendent a committee was formed, headed by a VP from Fedex, to look at how the MCS could be improved. I corresponded extensively with the head of the committee during that period.

What they found was extensive research indicating that the ideal size for a school district is 25,000-35,000 students. This is large enough for economies of scale, but small enough to manage efficiently. What they recommended was that Shelby County be divided into 5 independent districts of roughly equal student populations.

Such a system could have various funding approaches. The county could fund all districts based on average daily attendance for operations, while retaining the physical schools. The districts could be given power to levy school taxes. There are many possible approaches.

Needless to say, the whole report was ignored because it would have eliminated the power of the people in control of the largest single budget in all of Shelby County - the MCS Board and Superintendent.