Who Should Pay For Education?
Jim Blair

Who should pay for education?

A series last fall was on the topic of who should pay for education. Some comments centered on the question "why should I pay for your kids?" After some "conservatives are selfish" and "liberals waste money" type exchanges, Ed Flaherty pointed out that education is the textbook example of externality. We all benefit from an educated population, so we all should pay.

For those who feel this doesn't close the matter, there is another way to look at it. Education is not for parents but for children. When you were a kid, you got a "free" education. Like with most things that are "free", you have to pay for it later, and in this case for the rest of your life. The real issue is not who should pay but how.

Property Taxes?

In Wisconsin, as in most states, property taxes are the base of the education system. This is historical and there is no logical connection between your house and the schools. And by property taxes here, I mean the kind of property taxes that states have now: taxes which are not related to income, and which serve to penalize people who maintain and improve their homes. They also often force farmers to sell their land for development since the land is taxed at according to its potential for development. I am not referring to the "one tax" type of property tax promoted by Henry George and others.

Some states (Michigan and California for example) are breaking from this to use other taxes for education. Property taxes are one of the least fair forms of tax and in Wisconsin it is not unusual for the retired to be unable to afford to live in the home that they spent their entire working life buying.

When I asked about property taxes in Freeport Bahamas, the people didn't even know what they are. In Israel the "municipal tax" on a $150,000 home would be a few hundred dollars a year. Israel has a 17% VAT (sales tax) and if you own a car the license fee and gas tax is enough to cover the cost of roads and highways. But they think you should not be taxed from your house or penalized for improving it.

If you consider that an education helps you earn and spend more, then income and sales taxes should pay for schools.

How to improve education

I know that many are passionate on vouchers/choice rather than the "monopoly of experts" as the way to provide education, and they are probably right. Others are passionate on "phonics" rather than "whole words" as the better way to teach reading, and they are probably right too. I can't get too worked up over either cause. Does anyone remember the Coleman Report from the 1960's?

After an extensive study of the factors which affect what students learn, the Coleman commission concluded that none of the things usually considered important (class size, money spent, teacher qualifications etc,) actually make much difference. It is the student and the families' commitment to education which matters most. I have seen enough good students come out of poor schools to know that this is true.

If every kid had two parents with enough commitment to education to help with studies, and enough commitment to their children to marry before trying to raise a child, we could spend much less on schools and still produce students able to compete with those of the rest of the world. In short, better schools will come only after we have better students. And that will require better parents.

Essays on related topics...

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