Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Taxation without Equal Education

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Taxation without Equal Education

Article excerpt

Property-tax inequities make a mockery of public education's promise.

GEORGE W. BUSH HIT THE GROUND RUNNING AS the nation's nearly duly-elected chief executive officer with an education reform package meant to bring new federal attention to ailing public schools. Though he managed to avoid the "V" word, Bush did call for parents to have the voucher-esque option of taking a $1,500 federal grant to their private school of choice if their local public school fails to meet performance standards after three years. Other proposals concerning accountability and testing have begun a by-now ritualistic waltz of political rhetoric among elected officials and the punditocracy, but this voucher-in-new-clothing has created the most controversy.

Unfortunately, all the chatter over testing and vouchers distracts from what is perhaps most damaging to the nation's public education system: its reliance on local property taxes. The federal contribution to education, after all, only represents 7 percent of the money spent on America's schools--a little over $20 billion of nearly $300 billion each year. Public education is a locally based and locally financed institution in America, and no federal "reform" is going to change that.

Property tax-based funding means that children in affluent districts--often already luxuriating in the many advantages wealth affords--get an additional leg up in our culture: They can take a superior educational experience for granted. Districts in America's poorest communities are unable to generate the revenue required to offer a comparable education to their children.

Disparities that result because of the vagaries of property-tax valuations mean per capita spending on schoolchildren in U.S. suburbs is often thousands more than in urban and rural districts. Tax disparities translate into broad differences in access to technology, extracurricular programming, class size, school maintenance and construction--even in basic supplies such as up-to-date textbooks and teaching materials. In spot comparisons between districts, so-called public education can look more like a scattering of elite private schools among otherwise profoundly troubled institutions.

These disparities make a mockery of the American credo of equal opportunity for all. …

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