Tax Abatements Cost St. Louis-Area Schools $260 Million in Six Years; Black and Poor Students Lose the Most

January 24, 2024

Community Forum at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday 

For Immediate Release

Contact: Greg LeRoy at [email protected] or 202-494-0888
Or Anya Gizis at [email protected] or 215-620-9961

A dilapidated building in St. Louis. Jessica Christian/Unsplash

St. Louis, Mo. — An analysis of all 24 St. Louis and St. Louis County public school districts finds that economic development tax abatements — especially tax increment financing, or TIF — have cost students more than $260 million in just the past six years.

St. Louis Public Schools lose far more than any of the 23 suburban districts in St. Louis County: $1,634 per student per year. By contrast, most suburban districts lose less than $80 per student per year or report no losses at all.

The analysis, enabled by a landmark government-accounting reform, reveals sharp disparities by race, income and disability. Black, poor, and/or disabled students are very disproportionately harmed.

Comparing the two largest districts: students in St. Louis Public Schools, all of whom qualify for meal assistance and 88% of whom are Black or brown, lose 91 times more per student than those in the Rockwood R-VI School District, where 75% of the pupils are white and 9% qualify for meal assistance.

Those are the key findings of a study released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center. The study was commissioned by the St. Louis Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers Local 420.

The findings will be discussed at a public forum sponsored by seven groups:

Date:              Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Time:             5 p.m.

Place:            Harris Stowe State University, Emerson Building Theater 115, 3026 Laclede Avenue, St. Louis

“Thanks to a new government-transparency rule, we can see in great detail how tax abatements worsen inequality,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “Public education is the cornerstone of equal opportunity and economic development, so these tax abatement harms are perverse.”

“I graduated from Philadelphia Public Schools, which used to lose more in absolute dollars than any school district in the nation,” said the report’s author, Anya Gizis of Good Jobs First. “Our city council reacted to those findings by moving to cut those losses. I hope St. Louis will, too.”

After St. Louis, the second hardest-hit group of students are those with disabilities. The Special District of St. Louis County, which serves children with special needs residing in suburban districts, loses $1,148 per student per year.

To remedy these problems, the report recommends shielding school funding from tax abatements. It also recommends that St. Louis Public Schools be given either veto power of voting power on the St. Louis TIF Commission proportional to their share of property tax receipts. Finally, it suggests how TIF could be used to create housing for the families of homeless SLPS students.

Read the full report.

Want to learn how much your schools may be losing to corporate tax breaks? Start here.

Editors note: Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan research and policy center based in Washington DC. It was founded in 1998 and focuses on economic development incentives. It was the leading advocate for the government accounting reform that enabled this study.