Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Give the kids the money

Most Americans realize that our public school system is in miserable health. The debate is over whether and how our schools can be brought back from the precipice of ruin. Some hold out hope that we can jolt the system back to life with some competition from voucher programs -call that the defibrillator: no big rescue attempted, but maybe worth a shot before one shuffles off the ol' mortal coil. In that analogy, a solution involving a more robust income tax would be the equivalent of, I dunno, stem cell research: probably the best chance at reversing the real damage, but the very notion seems to offend conservatives to the core. Basically, convincing Americans that the public school system needs reform is easy. Now get them to admit they might need to cowboy up for the bill, and watch the room clear out.

Stories like this give me some encouragement:

A small group of pupils from the Students for an Equitable Education, a new youth organization working to change Illinois' school funding system, joined the "Riding for Reform" bus tour. Pupils went to the state's capital to rally for change in education funding.


To hear these pupils' cries, Blagojevich sat down with SEE to discuss alternative routes to cover the costs of public school education. SEE members said they would like to see the state look at increasing income taxes instead of relying heavily on property taxes.

If this were to happen, SEE members said school districts wouldn't be defined by the wealth of the communities they serve. Instead, they said, pupils across the state could receive a fair and equal public education.

The call for more money to balance out the rich and poor school districts is a common one. Illinois has a relatively low income tax, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. As a consequence, the state's share of funding kindergarten through 12th-grade public education is 37 percent, ranking it 48th in the nation. Illinois property taxes, on the other hand, are significantly greater than in other states.

Illinois' scheme-as-described is pretty common, and it's too bad. America's poorest communities should not be anchored to it's poorest schools, nor should the least wealthy members of our society be footing high-proportion property taxes just so their kids can get an education that at least approximates what their wealthier counterparts can comfortably afford. And within those parameters there does not seem to be an alternative to redistributive taxation. But as these cool kids point out, an alternative is not needed. We know what will work. So why aren't we doing it?

By the by, I muddled through Illinois' mess of a public school system until I was 8. So, y'know, represent or whatever. I never thought too highly of my schools there, until I moved to Texas, where I learned that the good folks in the Land of Lincoln were amateurs when it came to devastating poor schools.

No comments: