Sunday, November 13, 2011

Providing a Quality Public Education Isn't Optional

A friend on Facebook, let's call him Mr. Smith, stated that he doesn't " paying for other kids schooling..." as he has no kids.

I like Mr. Smith, but he is so wrong. Naturally, I decided to persuade him of his error in thought. It didn't work, but I put up a hell of a persuasive argument.

An educated populace benefits the growth of the society. We pay taxes to maintain the whole of society. No taxes, then no roads, law enforcement, traffic signals, public buildings, fire departments--the list is lengthy. We don't get to choose where our taxes are spent. I've never been arrested nor a victim of a crime, if I follow Mr. Smith's line of thought, I should not have to support law enforcement. If one lives in society then one must support the functioning of that society. Not wanting your taxes to support education because you don't have any children is a libertarian notion whether one likes that label or not. Btw, I don't have any children either.

We pay for educating all children so that there will be a competent workforce to maintain the infrastructure that promotes the functioning of society. We pay for educating all children because poverty and marginalization are engendered by the lack of an education. We pay for educating all children because the mind needs nurturing as much as does the body.

Mr. Smith argues that if your child attends a private school, you also should be spared from paying taxes to support public education. However, no one has to pay taxes and private school education. It's a choice you make and it doesn't mean that you get to abdicate your responsibility to pay local taxes.

Generally, property and some sales taxes go to paying for public education, which is financed primarily by the individual states. Federal funding goes to Title 1 programs for children from low-wealth families, the free and reduced price lunch program, and to support some of the programs for children with disabilities who are identified as such under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.

The voucher movement bases its premise on the notion that they should receive vouchers equivalent to the Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE) that a state spends to educate students. The theory behind it is that the parents pay taxes but their children don't attend public school so they should get their money back in the form of vouchers. The amount of the vouchers would actually exceed the amount paid in taxes as education funding is provided not only from the money collected from property taxes and sales tax. Corporate taxes, fines collected in court cases, parking fines, and revenues from other sources all go into the state general fund, which in turn funds public education in that state.

PPE for the states ranges from a low of $6,000 in Utah to a high of $15,000 in Vermont in the most recent comparison of 50 states and the District of Columbia from the EPE Research Center's Education Counts Database. The national average for PPE is just under $10,000. Those who support vouchers are asking to be paid amounts equal to the PPE in their state because they don't believe that they should have to support public education as their darlings aren't in public school.

There are constant complaints on Facebook and in general about the lack of comprehension on the part of the American public when it comes to politics and government. Knowledge of core civics is so poor that there were folks on FB who questioned why President Obama didn't just pardon Troy Davis, who was convicted in a state court of committing murder in violation of state law. Such a pardon is not within the powers of the office of the President. Compared to other comparable countries and some that we consider far less developed than the U.S., our students show mediocre performance  in math and science, and notoriously score poorly on standardized tests in U.S. History. (Test your knowledge of U.S. History by answering questions from the tests administered to students in grades 4, 8, and 12.)

Our public education system needs to be improved and held accountable. Check the education levels of any state prison and you will find a disproportionate number of inmates who never graduated from high school. Federal prisons are a bit different as they are filled with white collar criminals who have degrees but lack ethics. We continue to allow massive numbers of students to crash land between the cracks at our own peril. I'd prefer to have my taxes go to support public education; in the long run it's less costly than continuing to pay to maintain prisons (which also are supported with our taxes). We pay to support public education because we know that a poorly educated populace will be a future drain on the society rather than functional contributors to the growth and well-being of society.  Providing a quality public education for every child benefits all members of society. (See, The Effect of Education on Crime, October 2003.)

We cannot afford to entertain the notion that some of us are less responsible than others for contributing financial support to public education. It's both shortsighted and selfish.


mrs. miss alaineus said...

in my state the per pupil spending amount can vary by thousands of dollars from community to community. i've seen the voucher idea marketed as a way to make education more competitive (ie districts/ and or charter schools would be forced to improve in order to complete for student vouchers). after seeing the charter school animal at work, i am not sure the results are as great as what we were sold on when the charter movement started-kids are still falling behind and being passed on, yet the data used to show AYP is at a different standard, therefore making it look like some schools are doing better than they really are. example in point- a school that has a 85% passing rate for the state testing can 'fail to make ayp' yet a school with a 32% passing rate can 'meet ayp' because they slightly improved their scores- this is how educrats lie with numbers and fool us into a false feeling of security when in reality we are creating a nation of children who feel great about failing.


Sheria said...

...when in reality we are creating a nation of children who feel great about failing...

You sum it up well.I think that a lot of those children have grown up to be Tea Party members.

TAO said...


Our prisons are full, our overall test scores are low, our infrastructure is crumbling, and poverty is at its highest level since we began the war on poverty.

Our spending on education is also at its highest levels.

You are correct, we cannot entertain the idea that education is not a societal good that we are all responsible for paying for.

But, what is shortsighted and selfish is to assume that our current state of public education is achieving the goals that we require of it; that we are in fact getting our money's worth.

If you want to end the debate that you currently find yourself in on FB, then find a solution to the real problem.

Sheria said...

TAO, the amount of money spent on public education depends on the state in which you live. There is a substantial difference between a PPE of $15,000 (Vermont) and one of $6,000 (Utah).

The majority of education funding is done by each individual state. There is no such thing as "our" educational spending. Federal education spending is limited and specialized as I indicated in my post.

There are huge discrepancies among the states as to how much is spent on education. In some states, local systems may choose to levy additional local taxes to support education. That is the case in my state, so there is a discrepancy within the state as to how much money a system has to spend on its students. Rural systems that don't have a sufficient property tax base to support additional funding don't have the same amount per pupil to spend as urban systems.

I do agree that we're not getting sufficient bang for our buck when it comes to public education and I acknowledged that in my post. I made no assumption that our education system is functioning as it should. There aren't just cracks in the system, there are massive chasms and far too many students are falling into them. However, my problem with my friend's point of view is that he thinks that it's other people's problem because he has no children. It's not my job to find and offer a solution; it's everyone's job to do so instead of wanting to abdicate responsibility as my friend does. Money is necessary, but so is a change in methods of education and the training of teachers.

TAO said...


I didn't make my point very clear....

So, let me try again.

I have no doubt that you have forgotten more about education policy than I will ever know but your FB friends is not really arguing about education as much as they are arguing against the social contract.

The reality is that our political debate is always about special interests rather than general over riding principles.

We talk about "job creators" rather than economic opportunity. Or we talk about "race" rather than people in general.

We have government no longer of the will of the people, but rather government for the benefit of special interests.

Thus, we find ourselves now, with the unintended consequence of people believing they have no responsibility and denying the existence of the social contract.

We have become a nation of individuals who all have our pet causes and thus we have created a movement with a large following that basically says, "I don't give a damn."

My favorite people on the internet are like your friends on FB, they claim they have no responsibility for public education and consider social security a ponzi scheme but they will be the first to demand that we support the troops in Iraq because they are fighting for "our" freedom.

When I say, "...but I had no freedoms in Iraq that needed fighting for thus I don't feel obligated to pay for that war..." they get all up in arms.

Or how they will demand that veterans benefits be protected because they served and promises were made but to hell with the promises made to workers in regards to social security.

A promise is a promise, an obligation is an obligation. Equal opportunity, justice, fairness, and equality apply to all.

But we have ceased talking about "all" and rather talk about subgroups of all.

Europe has the benefit of having suffered through so many wars, especially WW1 and WW2 and thus they understand the value of the social contract.

While we are still arguing the against the validity of and or existence of the social contract.

Nance said...

Too right, Sheria! You did put up a hell of a persuasive argument.

Incidentally, my daughter (active duty Navy spouse, San Diego), sent me this article from Huffington Post over the weekend: Why I Send My Children To Public Schools. The primary argument here is that the schools themselves are less our biggest education problem than child poverty in America. Certainly, the latest child poverty numbers have been horrid and shameful.

Beth said...

I'm sorry you were unable to convince that person, but it sounds like he was pretty cemented in his position.

It's the same argument that Elizabeth Warren was trying to make about how the richest among us didn't get rich on their own; they used things that all of us have paid for with our taxes, and one of those things is public education.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

We cannot pick and choose our services, they are for all of us and our common good.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

I'm another childless boomer. If I trusted that a 50% increase in my taxes would all go to public education, I'd sign off in a heartbeat.

Nance said...

Just popped in again looking for any updates and...lo! Amy Winehouse sang to me that her tears dry on their own. You know how I miss Amy. Bless her heart, she was such a sad mess.

Happy Day After Thanksgiving, Sheria! I love your music player widget.

Bea said...

I finally had some time to just read your blog entries and comments... regretting not coming here sooner. This was a great posting, Sheria... and the link left by Nance, I read it too... reassuring that maybe I'm not the problem after all... teachers certainly are feeling the heat, even and especially the good/better/best teachers. I'm tired of doubting myself.... hearing/watching the news doesn't encourage me.

I know there's more involved than funding. Our schools (in my county) get about $7,000 in ppe (local, state, federal rounded total) according to local newspaper numbers. That puts us pretty near the bottom statewide(2009-10). It's complicated how it's determined which schools get what money. In our county, the BofE is trying very hard not to cut teacher positions.

But what you write is true: we are all responsible for the education of our citizens. If you let anyone slip through, we ALL will pay for it later. Better to have educated and trained people belonging, producing, contributing, building, giving, providing, teaching, healing, and caring for others rather than stealing, lying, cheating (on taxes), and breaking whatever laws they can to stay afloat, having children to get government aid, or people going hungry, living on the streets, forgotten and uncared for.

It's so complicated... it starts in our homes and how we raise our children. It's easy to see the home-school connection in this light. For families who lack the resources at home to take care of themselves, I know that school is a lifeline for them... but it takes time, money, and committment to help them along. Home and school together provide a quality education... and yes, funding from anywhere benefits us all.

good posting, Sheria.