IT’S PROPERTY TAX time. Amid the holiday mail from friends, many of us get notices of payments due from our friendly local tax assessor.
No one likes getting taxed. But in many places, property taxes make up a huge part of the funding for public education. What always surprises and irks me are those who say the tax is unfair because they don’t “use” the public schools.
One neighbor says he has no children. Another says his children go to a private school. They contend they derive no benefit from the taxation.
It pains me every year to address this complaint, but let me say it again: We’re all getting a good deal. What you get from public education is not only the betterment of people in your community, but also many problems avoided.
That nameless store clerk you shop from? He was trained by his schooling to show up every day and work through challenges. That great, or even small, innovation that makes your life so much easier, even though you might not even notice? It was designed by someone whose passion for innovation was ignited by a great class.
Even the lost kid—who without guidance might have fallen into crime against your property or even your person—contributes positively, thanks to a coach or program at his school that taught him discipline and self-respect, and gave him a vision of a better path.
The fact is, if each of us had to pay every time public education helped or bettered our lives, directly or indirectly, we couldn’t afford it.
Public education was born out of a 19th century idea that, when the community is bettered as a whole, we all live better. That idea still works. Of course, the school system could be improved in many ways. But the answer is not cutting off funding.
If you want to make sure your tax payments generate a better return on investment, do what you do with your other funds: Stay involved and monitor performance. I’m not talking about showing up at school board meetings and demanding your favorite bugbear be excised from curriculums.
Rather, try volunteering at your local school. Share your expertise or just lend a helping hand. Even consider getting involved in school policy. School boards across the country suffer from a lack of candidates willing to do the hard work of sustained administration. People criticize public schools, yet don’t bother to vote in school board elections. It’s easy to be a booing fan in the cheap seats. Try stepping into the arena.
I agree paying taxes for good schools a net win for everyone. But that’s the rub. So many are horrible schools, and worse some have been invaded quietly by Neo-Marxists. My sister teaches at a ruralist school in the Midwest. I’ve no doubt of its quality and freedom from such nonsense. Not a whiff of it. But 100 miles north in the state’s capitol parents have recently become aware their school system has been surreptitiously promoting Neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory by administrators, school boards, and teachers. Now it’s a fight to gain control back, and teachers that disagree with it and acknowledge the rot have been suspended. It’s a sad situation. Those idiots should be defunded.
I also hear the argument that property taxes are unfair because renters don’t pay them. Landlords pass the cost of property taxes on to the tenant. My tenants pay not only the property taxes, but also the mortgage, insurance, and maintenance. I get to reap the tax benefits.
We received our property tax bill a few days ago. My wife immediately wrote the rather large check and personally delivered it to our township treasurer who confided that we were the very first in the township to pay our tax. Knowing that the majority of our payment will go to our local public schools made us feel that our money will be put to good use.
We do not have children. But we vote in favor of every public school millage request. Why? Two reasons.
First, as true conservatives, we know that public education is the cornerstone institution for creating a well educated, well skilled population that enables our sometimes contentious but strong democracy; and provides our highly innovative and productive work force. Public education prevents the kind of generational social-economic stratification seen in many other countries. Public education offers all children the opportunity to receive the kind of education that will enable them to become successful adults. An additional public school benefit to our society is often overlooked. The shared public school experience of the majority of our country’s population is a strong binder for civic involvement and civil behavior. Without this shared experience we risk balkanization of our society; the dividing of our country on political, economic, religious, racial, and ethnic lines.
The second reason is more personal. I owe my life to the public school system I attended. My father died when I was a child. My mother moved the family to be closer to relatives and fortuitously into one of the best public school systems in the area. We lived in the lowest rent neighborhood of what was otherwise an upper-middle class to mansion-wealthy district. At that time public schools were nearly 100% funded from local property taxes. I attended that school system from sixth grade until I graduated high school. Yes, I was poor relative to just about all of my classmates. I rode my bike every day to school and listened to the difficulties some had finding a place to park the new car their parents bought them. But the educational opportunities, which I largely took for granted at the time, were outstanding.
In eighth grade I signed up for a class called Computer Math. It was the brainchild of a recently graduated teacher who was one of the few at that time that had any educational exposure to computer technology. This was 1967. There were only a handful of high schools in the entire country with computer labs. The equipment was a KSR-33 teletype connected via acoustic modem and phone lines to an early time share computer system. The lectures were simplified digital computer logic theory and programming in Basic language. Lab time consisted of writing small programs, stored on punched paper tape, and with great excitement, executing the programs on the remote system.
When I moved on into the newly built and very well furnished high school I found that the same teacher was also there and I ended up taking the same Computer Math class. By this time I and several other students had exhausted what the instruction provided but were able to continue in a self-directed fashion. I ended up using the teacher as an independent study advisor and did two more years of computer and software education, including taking courses at a local university during this time. I often ended my school day in the computer lab which was available until the janitor kicked me out.
It should be noted that not only did the public school system provide the then expensive lab equipment but it also paid for the connection and usage time of the remote computer system. These are the kind of educational “frills” which are the first to go when budgets are cut.
I have since had a successful and rewarding career in software engineering which I continue to do today. I cannot image what my life would be like if not for the educational advantages I had that were only possible in a well funded public school system. The school taxes I pay today are in gratitude for what I received many years ago.
Great perspective to share!! A breath of fresh air.
Many thanks for your wonderful comments.
The county sends out an invoice for property taxes each year but this year it apparently got lost in the mail, for us and many others. So this week while reading the local newspaper there was our name listed with hundreds of other delinquent tax payers! And since I’m the only person in our county with my last name it was pretty embarrassing! Paid now but I can just imagine all the people who used to work for me shaking their heads and saying, “Poor old Steve, he must have gone on hard times!”
You are absolutely correct. The argument that without children I shouldn’t pay for schools is like saying I don’t have a car so I should not pay for roads.
In my town over 50% of the property tax bill goes to schools and 60% of that amount goes to teacher total compensation. Teachers are not underpaid by the way, but that’s another story.
Seems to me the basic problem is that property taxes – which can become very regressive – are not the way to fund schools and on top of that why should we vote on school budgets and no other budgets?
It depends on where. My son is a special ed teacher in Los Angeles. He makes $60,000 a year, (with a masters degree). They’re underpaid.
I disagree. Classroom hours are 6-7 hours, summers and holidays off, great union benefits and pension.
Sorry, but if you decide you want to teach (or perform any other job) because that is what you want to do, you lose the right to complain about the pay. Don’t like the pay? Get a different job. When enough people decide to change careers, the pay will go up.
Not the place to have this debate, but relative to hours work, total compensation and the relative state of the taxpayers footing the bill that is not the case at all. If you are interested in the facts take a look here. https://quinnscommentary.net/?s=Teachers+pay
Richard, I like and agree with many of your articles and comments, but you are simply wrong on this one.
Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019Public school teachers earn about 20% less in weekly wages than nonteacher college graduates
The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.
Compare the total package, including hours (even recognizing good teachers put in more than 8 hours in a work day) worked in a year, relative job security, impact of ability to evaluate job performance and MOST IMPORTANT the relative value of the total package compared with the working population where they teach.
Many districts increase pay with the education level. When my daughter was teaching she got a raise for each added credit toward her masters and another when she obtained it. Why? Do other jobs give raises not tied to job performance, but getting a degree?
You can’t expect a teacher to be paid a $60,000 salary from taxes when the median household income in their town is $50,000. You also can’t compare strictly on a statistical basis public and non- profit jobs with private sector jobs because there are built in limits on what those jobs can pay so to say they are underpaid is meaningless.
There are also wide variations among states – also reflected in the quality of the schools.
The bottom line is that really good teachers cannot be paid for the tremendous value they add, mostly because their unions wont permit it.
More taxes isn’t the answer to better schools…creating competition for students utilizing tax vouchers would ultimately lead to better schools…similar to medicare/medicaid and Pell grants…most of the pushback to school taxation has more to do with the curriculum being taught/promoted i.e. CRT and parents being labeled as “domestic terrorists” by the usual suspects…IMO.