Tax Dollars at Work: Public Education in America
Taxation is a hot-button political topic and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. On Monday, as I waited to mail my tax returns, I took a minute to reflect on the importance of public funding in connection with the United States’ longstanding value of education. Thomas Jefferson, who would have been 269 on April 13, viewed knowledge as essential to a thriving democracy. Writing to William C. Jarvis in 1820, he explained the connection: "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” When it comes to the importance of education, I’m in agreement with Jefferson and I’m proud of the U.S. public education system.
The history of public education is complex and extensive, textbooks are written about it, but the beginnings of the modern system took root in the 1830s and 1840s with the rise of the Common School Movement. Movement advocates believed that education could produce numerous positive benefits for a good society, such as eliminating crime and poverty, reducing tension between social classes and fostering patriotic citizens. The movement’s standardization included the following key features: a common schoolhouse where children of all backgrounds might experience diversity at a young age; an idea that there is a direct link between government education and solving societal, economic and political problems; and the construction of state agencies to control local schools.
The local tradition continues when it comes to finances; public schools receive a majority of their funding from state and local property taxes. The federal government contributes a relatively small percentage of a given district’s budget, less than 10%, usually in the form of formula funds (such as Title I and IDEA) and sometimes competitive grants such as Race to the Top. National variance in property value and tax rates results in significant funding inequities by district. School funding has also been adversely affected by the economic crisis that put stress on local revenue sources and reserves.
With American families struggling to make ends meet, any funding becomes instrumental in maintaining a high quality learning environment. Recently, the National Education Association (NEA) launched a petition calling on corporations to pay their fair share on behalf of America’s middle class citizens. Large corporations and businesses contribute to a loss of school funding in two ways: first, they are recording record profits while paying historically low tax rates. Loopholes ensure that almost no major corporation will pay the 35% tax rate. Secondly, they receive subsidies as an incentive to bring their business to a given community. The collective community revenue loss from these subsidies totals over $70 billion a year. Communities are subsidizing corporations with hard earned tax dollars, but people do not need to subsidize a corporation; their money should be going towards a service that strengthens our country and collective future.
The Center for Education Policy writes in “An American Imperative: Public Education” that public schooling in America: is a tuition-free education, offers the promise of equal educational opportunities regardless of background, has a commitment to high standards and expectations for all, provides a system of governance ensuring public accountability and is a benefit to society in the teaching of democratic principles and values. I believe in the value and importance of public education and I take pride in paying my taxes to support strong public schools.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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