Tax relief is a phrase that is generally owned by conservatives, who want us to believe that taxes are an undue burden imposed on citizens. This morning, I’m stealing that mantra, and giving it a new spin.
This morning is the morning after reason prevailed in the Ladue School District, where 52% of voters said yes to Proposition 1, which will raise the district’s operating tax levy by $.49. And that outcome has created, for me, a sense of relief—tax relief. I’m relieved that the school district won’t have to lay off teachers. I’m relieved that class sizes will not have to increase and that valuable programs won’t have to be reduced. I’m relieved that the district won’t have to make an additional $2.1 million in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year.
I took some heat for previous opinions I published on the subject of Proposition 1. One critic accused me of fomenting “class envy.” That’s pretty funny, considering the issue we’ve been wrangling over. Ladue School District, with its elevated property values and track record of high per-pupil expenditures, is ranked among the best districts in Missouri. So, I don’t have a problem with the idea that passing Proposition 1 to help maintain the district’s level of excellence makes Ladue’s classes the envy of others.
The Ladue school district wants more money to keep up its schools, and it’s asking voters to approve a 49-cent tax increase. I know that the financial woes of one of Missouri’s most upscale school districts don’t rate a lot of boo-hoos from people in less affluent areas. But the Prop 1 issue [facts and myth debunking here] offers an object lesson on a subject that goes far beyond the boundaries of one school district. [Full disclosure: I live in the district, although not in Ladue itself. FYI, Ladue school district encompasses not just Ladue, but also part of Frontenac and a swath of many less upscale neighborhoods in Olivette and Creve Coeur. I'll be voting YES on Prop 1.]
As I drive around the district, I notice a lot of bright yellow, “NO on Prop 1″ signs. I’ve started observing–unscientifically– which houses have anti-Prop 1 signs, and guess what? Many of the people with the NO signs live in the biggest, most pretentious McMansions in my area. It should also be noted that many of those huge houses were built in the past 10 years, on “tear-down” lots that previously held much smaller, human-sized ranch homes built in the 1950s and 1960s. And why do you suppose these homeowners chose these particular new homes? Could it be precisely because they are in the highly respected Ladue school district–a fact that adds value to their homes?
So, what do we learn from this unscientific observation, class? As has become the fashion, the wealthiest among us are the least likely to be willing to pay their fair share of taxes to contribute to the public good, from which they benefit mightily.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Missouri Progressive Action Group [MOPAG], Democratic State Rep. Margo McNeil presented a rundown on the omnibus education bill now making its way–or not–through the Missouri legislature. It’s really about 7 bills smashed together into one, and even McNeil–who’s on the legislature’s Education Committee and who’s well-versed in the intricacies of the legislation–had a tough time explaining what all the various bills are about. Upshot? These bills should be considered–up or down–individually, not as the messy, incoherent and sometimes internally contradictory package that they’re being crammed into.
A few impressions:
-There’s too much energy going into “alternatives” to public schools, and not enough attention to making the system work as it is. When savvy parents figure out how to opt out of failing public schools –a path that’s being incentivized big-time in some of the bills under consideration–we’re going to have a lot of kids left behind. What about them?
-The corporatists, who see privatization of education as a way of creating a whole new revenue stream for themselves and their friends, are exerting a lot of pressure. We just can’t let them win. Public education is what differentiated this country from others. Do we really want to turn it over to for-profit entities?
-The idea of “Passport Scholarships” is nothing more than a veiled voucher system. By the way, it’s horrifying to hear that McNeil was gaveled down and not allowed to speak when she had the audacity to use the word “voucher” when attempting to address the issue!
-It’s crazy to lump revamping of the foundation formula [the Kafka-esque system by which Missouri public schools are funded] in with other bills on completely different subjects. Funding the schools is too complicated and urgent for this approach.
-The “Turner fix” is also too important to be lumped in with other bills. Under proposed “Turner fixes,” students from unaccredited public districts would be allowed–at the district’s cost–to attend schools in adjacent counties–without the assent of the receiving district! Whoa! That could both bankrupt the district that’s unaccredited and swamp the receiving district. This issue needs to be addressed separately.
Kudos to McNeil for diligently staying on top of these bills and fighting for what’s right for Missouri schools.