Saturday, April 29, 2006

What the manner in which schools are funded says about a people

Over at Sine.qua.non, Nancy has assurred me via this post that my native state is just as clueless about how (not to mention "whether") to fund public schools properly as the state where I currently reside. I see from the article Nancy links to that, like Kansas, Texas is under a court order to address how its schools are funded. The specifics of the funding are different, though: In Texas, the court ruled that funding is too dependent on property taxes (amazingly, schools there have plenty of money in the eyes of the court, but whether that's true or not is something I can't speak to and certainly doubt); here in Kansas, the schools are just plain old underfunded. A lot.

Details, and some borrowed thinking from others, below the fold.

In Texas, the plan is to cut property taxes and make up for the decrease in revenue by dipping into the state's sizeable revenue surplus and increasing taxes on cigarettes by $1 a pack. I gather from its absence from the article that the simple 3-word phrase "state income tax" (which Texas does not have and is a fact of which it officially is quite proud) is still political taboo and yet would immediately satisfy the courts, reduce the tax burden on property owners (smokers too, Nancy), AND provide schools with all the revenue they need.

In Kansas, the most popular solution to the underfunding question is to permit state-controlled casino gambling in selected cities. While I'm not anti-casino per se, I do wonder about the underlying assumptions regarding the importance of public education reflected in proposals such as that and raising tobacco taxes.

Wichita's mayor, Carlos Mayans, made me wonder about this question last year when he himself raised it. He is not anti-casino, either, but his point is a simple one: if we say we value education, then we should fund it so as to reflect that sentiment--not just in terms of dollar amounts but in terms of the sources of those funds. No one likes to pay taxes, of course, and politicians in election years are reluctant to raise (the issue of) taxes; nevertheless, the representatives of a state should be politically willing to ask its people to invest directly and adequately in those things we collectively say we care about. Gambling revenues and other so-called sin taxes are disposable income, monies that people have decided they don't need for other things. To fund schools in this way, Mayans is suggesting, is to imply that schools are being funded with left-overs: a disgraceful attitude.

If there's one certain thing a state can do to better ensure a brighter future for itself, it's not granting massive tax incentives to businesses to lure them there. It's investing adequately and wisely in education from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate. Well-educated people attract businesses with higher-paying jobs.

By way of closing, I link to this post by Dr. Jan regarding the brouhaha in Oklahoma when her school's students decorated a Christmas tree with discarded lottery tickets and the displayed it in the state capitol building last December. I know she meant no harm in doing this; the blame is not with her, and certainly not her students. But I'd like to think that it made people uncomfortable at least in part because it embarrassed them into thinking about the choice the state had made. Here, legislators, that tree could be read as saying: you fund us with left-overs; we'll honor you with the left-overs from the left-overs.

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R. Sherman said...

Hi, John. In Missouri we have an income tax, property taxes, the lottery and casinos. From the income tax and other revenues, the state pays X dollars per student to all public school districts.

Gambling was sold to us on the "taxes to support education" theory. We were promised double education spending.

It didn't happen. Money is fungible. The legislature simply took general operating money away from education and replaced it with gambling taxes. No net increase.

Uh Oh, I feel a rant coming on. I better stop now.


jmb said...

Our state has done exactly the same as R Sherman's in regard to funding our schools.The promised lottery funds were a farse. They are to be used for "enrichment" which leaves no net gain in our classrooms, however we have a whole bevy of new administrators now who are "studying" the problem. Here our property taxes are well more than adequate to fund our schools, if only they would use the money wisely. (Property values in California= average family home costs $420,000-- yes 4x the national average!) We also have HUGE revenue sources from major attractions like Disneyland and the Port of LA/LB... and still my children's science program was CANCELLED 2 years ago, and though their school is a "technology magnet," last year the tech program lost its funding. And our schools were the best urban schools in America last year? I wish someone could explain this to me. The parents at my kids school actually raised enough money to continue both programs on their own last year, and we paid the teachers directly from a newly created association.Proving it is possible for us who are most affected by the crappy system to take action.

Expecting smokers to pay for education is an even worse idea than the lottery. It plain old doesn't make sense-- it makes smoking a civic duty!
Personally I think the best way to increase the funds available to our students would be to LAY OFF about 60-70% of the administration.

By the way John....I enjoy your blog, and now a days, I read it before/instead of my horoscope!

John B. said...

Thanks to the both of you for sharing your respective states' failures to keep to the high road with regard to funding for education. If we ruled the world . . .

And, JMB, I know that Mr. Sherman, attorney extraordinaire, will appreciate the Meridian's need to address the following:

By the way John....I enjoy your blog, and now a days, I read it before/instead of my horoscope!

While I am flattered, I really must advise you that this blog is provided for entertainment purposes only.

Anonymous said...

...whereas horoscopes are to be taken seriously?