WV Counties with School Levies
Most counties in West Virginia (42 out of 55) have excess school levies to supplement funding from the state and other mandated sources. This column studies the counties in West Virginia which have excess school levies – and which do not – to see whether we can get a sense for why some counties have voted to tax themselves to benefit their schools and students while others, including Pocahontas County, have not.
Next week’s column will examine the most common purposes used to justify excess school levies (e.g., textbooks, supplies, maintenance, music and arts, extracurricular activities). It will also show how much counties are willing to tax themselves on a per student basis to provide a better educational environment than could be afforded using established funding from federal, state and local sources.
Take a look at the map accompanying this column. The thirteen counties without school levies are not distributed evenly across the state but tend to be clustered near the Virginia state line – the most sparsely populated part of the state.
It appears that a county’s student population density is a good indicator of whether it has a school levy. Student density is the number of students per square mile in a county. The accompanying table (page 12) shows that all counties having a student density greater than 7.5 have school levies (30 of 55); only half of those with lower student density have school levies. Pocahontas County has the lowest student density in West Virginia.
What are we to make of this? Correlation is not causation; in this case, however, sorting by student density allows comparison between the half of sparsely populated counties which have school levies (12 of 25) and the remaining 13 which do not.
One might think that counties without school levies are poorer than counties which tax themselves extra to support schools. Income, like population, is not spread evenly across counties. West Virginia’s median household income is approximately $41,000; that is, half of counties have household income above $41,000, and half are below. But, there are counties in West Virginia with household incomes above the national median of $53,700 (e.g., Berkeley, Jefferson, and Putnam counties). And, there are very poor counties which are well below West Virginia’s median household income (e.g., McDowell and Hampshire counties). Yet, some relatively affluent counties do not have school levies and nearly all counties in Coal Country have excess levies.
At $36,827, Pocahontas County ranks 18th in median household income; among the 13 counties without a school levy, Pocahontas County ranks seventh in the middle, or median. Of the 42 counties with school levies, 10 have lower household income than Pocahontas County (i.e., McDowell, Wyoming, Lincoln, Mason, Fayette, Mingo, Mineral, Logan, Wayne and Mercer). So, household income is not highly correlated to whether a county has a school levy.
Relative affluence and higher population density may partially explain why most counties are willing to impose school levies on themselves, but these factors do not fully explain why Pocahontas County voters declined to pass a school levy in the last two elections.
The search continues.