One recent afternoon a local superintendent called me on the phone and said, “I just had a revelation – there’s no money in education!” Now, I am thinking to myself that he has flipped his lid because he has been in educational long enough to know that we aren’t in it for the money. Then he clarified, “We have no way to raise money except for property taxes – we have no way to make money!” Well, he had a point and it occurred to me that the system is not set up for schools to be for-profit.
If you go back to the history of the common public school, it is clear that public schools were set up as a function of democracy. Land was set aside in every township and the voters of that township had local control of their school through an elected board. Obviously, there have been many consolidations and mergers since the inception of the common public school but the system still remains in effect today. The voters of the school district determine what type of school they would like to have by deciding what levies and school monies to support or reject. It is the ultimate in democracy, each community is free to determine the quality of the facilities where kids will spend the majority of the first 18 years of their lives. Communities have the right to determine what type of preparation their children will receive to enable them to compete for jobs against workers from all over the world. When you think about it, we have the right to vote yes or no for public education. You are not just voting for your tax rate when you cast that ballot – you are voting on the quality of facilities and services that our children will receive during their formative years.
A no vote may decrease your taxes in the short term, but as a community, you get what you pay for. A yes vote is an investment in the future. Not just the future of the school-age children in the district but an investment for every taxpayer in the community. Kids who drop out from school and do not attain at least a high school diploma will cost the community more money in the long run. Consider the following from the Alliance for Excellent Education (2007):
- The United States could save between $7.9 and $10.8 billion annually by improving educational attainment among all recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, foodstamps, and housing assistance (Garfinkel et al., 2005).
- A high school dropout contributes about $60,000 less in taxes over a lifetime (Rouse, 2005).
- If the male graduation rate were increased by only 5 percent, the nation would see an annual savings of $4.9 billion in crime-related costs (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006b).
- America could save more than $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for health care for the uninsured by graduating all students (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006a).
So when you pull that curtain and get ready to cast a ballot for your local school levy remember that you are not only voting to determine the amount of taxes that you will pay. You are also participating in a referendum on public education. A substandard education has never been so costly and a good education has never been so important as it is today. Make an investment in the future of your community by supporting your local school levy in the next election.