Taxes and the Costs of Public Schools

Schools cost lots of money; more, in fact, than any other item in most state budgets. They make up almost half the California budget. As you may be aware, the Golden State is knee-deep in financial trouble. It has been budgeting more money than it takes in in revenues.  At least it would be doing that if the state’s constitution didn’t disallow such profligate spending. What to do?

You do what California has been doing for years now: cut spending, raise taxes, and in a pinch, raid funds that would otherwise belong to county and local governments. The state’s November ballot contains competing propositions for raising taxes in order to subsidize schools. If Californians fail to approve either measure, funding for K-12 education will be cut by $5.5 billion. So, how would the state deal with such a shortfall? Easy, just cut the school year by three weeks. Bear in mind that starting in 2010 the state legislature gave school districts permission to cut the academic year by five days. In districts that eliminate all the permitted days, the school year could be down to 160 days, down from 180 just a decade ago. And California is not alone in dealing with this conundrum.

According to an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News (July 10, 2012), “Cutting these days from the school year amounts to a massive stealth tax on parents.” It goes on to assert that parents will be paying more for less. “The longer kids are out of school, the more of their lessons they forget, and the further behind they are likely to fall.”

Here is where we take umbrage. We have expressed opinions like this before, but each time the issue of inadequate tax revenues for schools raises its obnoxious head, we feel compelled to look at the rest of the picture. And that picture is framed by the concept of well-to-do people being entitled to tax deductions simply for producing offspring. Have a kid, get a deduction. Have three kids, get three deductions. If these children go to public school they continue to exacerbate the budget burden, but their parents pay less in taxes instead of more. What sense does that make?

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Above a certain income level, why are parents not taxed at higher rates than nonparents, at least if they exceed, say, one kid . . . or two? If individuals want to indulge in child-making shouldn’t they bear some of the additional burden? We hear opinions across the political spectrum that express a desire to decrease or eliminate “entitlements.” But we virtually never hear about education falling into that catchall. “Entitlements” is usually a euphemism for programs that poor people (read: “lazy good-for-nothings”) take advantage of. But how about tax deductions for parents of multiple progeny who take family vacations, provide each family member with a smart phone, and have four big-screen TVs in their five-bedroom/four-bath homes?

If education is a pillar of modern progressive society, which it is, then should it not be that we all chip in for it, especially those who benefit the most?

According to the National Summer Learning Association (no, we did not make it up) low-income children fall nearly three grade levels behind in reading because of summer learning loss, largely because wealthier families tend to provide their kids with learning reinforcement over the summer.

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Children who live in more affluent communities tend to go to school in wealthier districts, and thereby are less likely to have shortened school years. As long as we delineate school districts in ways that discriminate against poorer families, we are perpetuating a class system that suppresses the poor. There are many ways in which American society bears, and will continue to pay the price for, such discrimination. Leaving the less-fortunate out in the cold means perpetuating the subsequent need to offer them more entitlements. It also means living in class discriminating society, which in turn leads to needy individuals, societal decline and high crime rates.

The reduced-taxation elephant is in the room. So, prosperous parents, don’t relax on the recliner with your eyes closed. You just might get squashed under the weight of societal decline.

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