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.