Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stop Whining and Pay Your Property Taxes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stop Whining and Pay Your Property Taxes

Article excerpt

For 13 years, I lived in Baton Rouge, La., where my husband and I paid approximately $4,000 a year in property taxes for our large, historic house. It was great. Except that the public schools, deprived of a healthy tax base, were, on the whole, decrepit failures. We paid for our own three kids to attend private school.

Now I live in Montclair, N.J., where the taxes are high - several times what our local and state taxes combined were in Louisiana - and everyone and their dog complains about them.

On the other hand, Montclair in particular, and New Jersey on the whole, enjoys one of the best public school systems in the country. And the thing about public schools is (duh): It's not just the children of the already-affluent who can go there, take Advanced Placement classes, learn how to speak Italian, or master a killer breast stroke; the children of the struggling can too.

Though I'm a Yankee, I desperately loved our life in Baton Rouge. I loved its friendliness, its eccentricities, its resilient spirit, and the way the whole state rallies every time there's a hurricane. What I didn't love was the attitude, most often expressed among the financially secure, of "our" versus "their" children.

"Why should I be paying for their kids?" people said. But before you assume that the state is filled with racists, "their" kids meant any kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Alas, Louisiana has no dearth of poor folk, or poverty-related woes.

One way or another such language points to the deeply held conviction, nursed not only in Louisiana but many other places, that there is actually such a thing as children who don't deserve our compassion.

The fact of the matter is that they're all ours. The Spanish- speaking child of an unwed teenage mother in South Central, Los Angeles, is just as much the future of America as the computer- genius son of two Ivy-educated lawyers in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Those who oppose merely "throwing money" at public schools have a valid point, too, of course: You'd have to be willfully blind not to know that kids coming from financially unsound but morally intact families tend to do OK even in dicey schools, while those whose home lives are chaotic don't have much of a shot even with reasonable educational opportunities. …

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