When fall break ends on Friday, will the 1,150 students of Clay County, Tennessee, have a school to return to? No one knows. After three years of budget struggles, the Clay County School Board decided last week that the best way to resolve its financial crisis was to close the district’s schools—indefinitely.
The explanation for the closure is perhaps as remarkable as the closure itself. According to Jerry Strong, the director of schools in the rural county about two hours northeast of Nashville, it is Obamacare that has bled the school district dry. As Strong said in a local news interview:
In this case, the Affordable Care Act being a totally unfunded mandate is devastating the finances of the Clay County school system, and we are also in a county that just doesn’t generate a lot of tax revenue.
He also said:
The straw that broke the camel's back was really the Affordable Care Act for us, and it has made it very difficult for us to have our employees properly covered and meet the mandates of the law.
Not an altogether unexpected line of reasoning for an official in a county that voted for Mitt Romney by a 20-point margin in 2012.
The county has already declined to raise property taxes to fund its schools: "This is a poor, rural county and we already have the seventh-highest property tax rate in the whole state of Tennessee," County Commissioner Parrish Wright said. "Our property taxes, they're high enough."*
While a referendum on another revenue-generating option, a vehicle registration fee, is pending, Strong and other administrators decided to bring the budget crisis to a head by shutting down schools until further notice, even though the county commissioner says they have enough money to stay open through the end of the academic year.
Two parents are suing the school district over the closure, and a judge has granted a temporary injunction until a chancery court judge meets with school administrators on Monday. If officials don’t figure it out soon, the students of Clark County could have one of the longest Columbus Day breaks on record.
*Correction, Oct. 14, 2015: The original post misspelled the County Commissioner Parrish Wright’s first name.