Using Tax Dollars for Public Education and Private Schools
by Peter Stern
Last May (2011) Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, signed-off on a state-wide voucher program bill and the result may be viewed as chaotic. Thousands of parents are pulling their kids from public schools and are placing them in private schools, of which many are Christian-based institutions that were previously sparsely populated.
Much of the chaos may be due to improper planning for the transition. The result is that the huge Exodus of children is taking a large chunk of tax dollars from public education and transferring them to the private schools. Neither public or private schools appear to be handling the transition smoothly.
Correct or not, many opposed to the voucher program are stating that it is a violation of the laws separating religion from state to permit the tax dollars to be taken from public education and given to Christian schools.
Here in Texas, if Governor Rick Perry and Texas Legislators have their way, a voucher program could be initiated in the next legislative session with the ongoing verbal and huge monetary support from the wealthy elite, e.g., millionaire Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, who has been "foaming at the mouth" for the past decade trying to bring a voucher program to Texas. They may all get their wish soon, but it may create chaos here as well if not planned out intelligently.
To read a brief article on the voucher program status in Indiana:
The Governor of Indiana signed off on a bill developed and approved by the Indiana Legislature after which the voters agreed to it in a public referendum that permits property taxpayers to do so. Since they all voted for it, they should do it.
It is the transition process that is "chaotic" because it has thrown Indiana Public Education into turmoil and not for any other reason than poor planning. It was poor decision-making on the part of the governor and legislature because they did not set-up a method of initiating the new voucher program more carefully with an appropriate transition phase for public AND private schools.
Many private schools are having problem taking-in the high volume of new children entering so quickly.
The "chaos" means that the budget for public schools was "up in the air" as no one really knew how many children who previously went to public schools would be removed from them, how many kids would be left, how many teachers would be needed and/or fired, how many schools could be combined and/or closed, how many textbooks would be needed, other materials, etc., etc.
While public education is a good thing for the various communities throughout the U.S., there also may be room for a well thought-out voucher program. I say this because a community benefits from an education workforce --- and if they benefit from it, there is no reason why they shouldn't pay for it. Most families today cannot afford to pay the taxes for public schools and then also pay for their children’s private education.
However, public education should NOT be paid for via a property tax system that overburdens homeowners unfairly, which is how it is currently set up in many, if not most states.
There is another perspective. If you are paying, say, $10,000 per year in property taxes and 80 percent of that amount goes to public education and if you decide to send your children to private schools... why should you still pay the taxes for public education AND pay additionally for the cost of the private education? It could be viewed as a “double tax” for education.
That said, here in Texas it may be that the property taxes you pay for your local/district public schools do NOT even go to the district you live in, a.k.a., the "Robin Hood" clause that was developed 10 years ago by the court system because legislators could not or would not agree on a financing method. It sends part of the tax dollars paid that was intended to go to your district schools to another "poorer" district with the idea that districts become more equal in total budget amounts and more in providing our children with a more equal education.
However, it is a load of crap and it doesn't work, plus, even though a court system developed it, the "Robin Hood" clause should be declared illegal by a higher court. Why should taxpayers of one district pay for the education of children in another district? Yet, Texas has been doing this for the past decade and continues to do so even though we all know it doesn't work. So, not only are Texas homeowners overburdened by an oppressive property tax system, all the tax dollars in a district may not go to the same district's public schools. How is that fair or equal???
If set up properly, which it probably never will be, a school voucher program and public education system could work together. However, since the government would be involved in both systems and we all know that if government cannot run one system's financing intelligently [public education] it most likely will NOT be able to manage two of them. A result could be an improvement of public education since removing so many children may actually make the system more manageable.
All eyes will remain on Indiana’s new school voucher program. It will be interesting to observe how the state government handles the financing of a dual education system and how each will effect the other. It may finally answer the age old question of “Which is better, public or private education?” In any case, it may be the first major step in privatizing public education.