Quality public school education should not depend on property taxes

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

When you look back on your educational experience, odds are you have one of two polarizing views of the American public school system: The United States either has the best public education system in the world or the worst. It either sets students up for success or failure. Split views of the public education system is one reason why there are so many private campuses in America. There are 34,576 private schools in the United States, serving 5.7 million K-12 students. Private schools account for 25 percent of the nation’s schools and enroll 10 percent of all K-12 students.

Your views likely depend on where you grew up, what public schools, if any, you attended, and why you either did or did not attend public school. There are huge differences in the quality of public schools depending on the district, and that’s why many students (10 percent according to the National Center for Education Statistics) opt to attend private schools. Public schools in the United States are funded largely through property taxes, meaning there is a direct correlation between the amount of money put into your education and the value of the land and buildings surrounding the school.

That is why we see some public school districts spending tens of thousands of dollars per student per year while others are spending just a few thousand.

For example, 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data reveals Long Lake Central School District in New York spent $63,882 last year per student in their district; this is higher than the average college tuition in America. Terrell County Independent School District in Texas spent $34,447 per student last year. Waco ISD spent $8,802 last year per student, below the national average of $11,841.

Public schools should be equally funded across the nation and across the state. Fifty percent of funding from schools should come nationally and 50 percent should come from the state. This means the federal government should take on more responsibility when it comes to funding our public schools. The Houston Chronicle reports that it is the state, not the federal, government that determines school district funding. That means districts that are unable to meet the funding level because of lower property taxes, state funds make up the difference. With rising property values, state governments are taking less and less of the burden, often leading to more disparities in educational equity.

A study from Education Law Center and Rutgers School of Education assessed the funding fairness levels of public K-12 schools. Their 2015 assessment gave Texas a D in funding fairness. Though the cost of living is lower in Texas, the education students receive should not suffer as a result.

There should not be such disparity when it comes to funding public education. One public school shouldn’t be giving iPads to every student when schools a few districts away have books that are outdated and falling apart. This is not to say schools shouldn’t be giving the best resources to their students – they should, but the resources available to public school students should be comparable across all public schools. If public schools continue to be funded through property taxes, that money should be equally dispersed per student per school district on a statewide basis, not locally.

Teachers will also be attracted to school districts with more funding because that often means higher salaries. Of course, teacher salaries should reflect the cost of living in the area they are employed. However, schools where teachers are paid less may mean those teachers have the added stress of having a lower income, less resources and may even need to have a second job. Those factors can impact the amount of quality attention and instruction they are able to provide their students.

A child’s worth is not dependent on how much money their home is worth, and the quality of their education shouldn’t be either.

It should not be a shock that schools that spend less money per student have a lower and later graduation rate, worse standardized test scores and a lower college acceptance rate. Not to mention students at schools funded below the national average are more likely to fall subject to the school-to-prison pipeline, according to research from the ACLU.

There should also be regulations as to how funding is spent and allocated. It would not be fair to students if one school decided to spend 25 percent of the budget on sports and only give the arts 1 percent. Students in public schools should have equal access to resources regarding sports, technology, the arts, STEM and all other areas.

Think back to your local public education system – what could have been better? How did that school allocate resources? Will you send your child to a public school? Will you be involved on the school board or the PTA? How will you advocate for your child’s education? Start advocating for them now.

Research educational policies of candidates you’re voting for. You may never have been in the public school system, but most of America’s youth is. Educational policy is an issue that affects millions of people and, odds are, it will impact your life, too.