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Follow the money

By Nancy Salvato
web posted May 9, 2005

Money and receiving an education are almost synonymous in this day and age. You certainly have to have one to have the other. But I wonder how many people really know how or what their individual tax dollars actually contribute to their own child's education.

In the 1999-2000 school year, the breakdown of tax dollars went something like this: Local and intermediate sources made up 43 cents of every dollar in revenue, state revenues comprised 50 cents, and the remaining 7 cents came from federal sources. (U.S. Education Spending: 1999-2000)

Here's the catch. Local, state, and federal dollars all come from the same place -- you! When you think about it that way, the break down is pretty important because where you decide to live directly impacts the amount of money you spend on your child's local school district.

This understanding may have many implications for the discriminating tax payer. When the federal government increases the percentage of taxes that help fund education programs around the nation, you are in effect subsidizing the education of those who reside all across the country. The schools receiving the most funding will be those considered more in need of federal tax dollars or whose legislators are adept at getting "pork".

In contrast, funding the bulk of your child's education through local tax dollars should ensure that your own money is more than likely to cover your own child's education. Unless you live in Texas, where the richer districts keep only a fraction of their taxes and the other portion goes to (Robin Hood) to the poorer districts. Talk about unfair!

Less than half of the money funding local schools comes from local sources and funding formulas are in place to distribute state and federal revenue in such a way that your child's school may not be eligible for as much money as a school outside your district. The governing policy idea behind all this allocating is to equalize public education.

When "Educrats" complain that it costs too much money to ensure (as a prerequisite to receiving NCLB money) adequate yearly progress in your child's school and say that the federal government isn't contributing enough money to mandate this law, in effect they are saying that you need to pay more tax dollars to the federal coffer to be dispersed amongst the more impoverished school districts. Ironically, no states have actually collected and spent all the federal money available to them yet they continue to complain they need more.

When you stop to consider how tax dollars are spent in the schools, you may want to reconsider voting yes on that referendum or lending your sympathetic ear to those complaining that there isn't enough money to provide for public education. On average, only 62 cents per education dollar is used for instruction.

Over a third of the money is used to operate and maintain buildings, pay school administrators, cover transportation, and other such things. Tax increases often go to funding retirement pensions, premium health care for current and retired teachers, and other benefits that do no directly affect the student. This occurs amidst national debate over the security of the average taxpayers' own Social Security and Medicare -- which aren't nearly as comprehensive and are often cost prohibitive.

Those benefiting from the monopoly of public education must be stopped. Parents need to have more control over their children's education. The only way to do so is to allow the parents to decide where their designated education dollars will be spent. Allowing competition for students will force competing schools to raise their standards and operate with more efficiency and legitimacy.

The public school system as it stands is one big "redistribution of income" scheme. Not only is it serving to socialize education but it lines the pockets of those screaming the loudest against changing the system because they don't want to lose "a good thing". A good thing for the students or the taxpayers -- I don't think so. But those who hold the purse strings don't want you to know that.

Nancy Salvato is the Director of Education & Research at Americans for Limited Government. She is the editor for the LEAD Action and Parents in Charge Foundation websites. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005

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