A short discussion: Who should pay for K-12 education?

Several days ago, a Facebook friend complained about the "Pay to Play" system being adopted by some public school districts. This system in essence requires that parents pay the cost of extracurricular activities in order for their children to participate.

I think this is an interesting topic, and one that warrants a discussion. A slightly different debate emerged, however, between me and another Facebook citizen. The focus became "who should pay for K-12 education?", and the argument below ensued. I'd love to hear feedback from the wider world about the points raised, as well as any other perspectives you have to contribute.

I've left the conversation as is from Facebook, complete with the spelling and grammar errors that sometimes creep in during a fast back-and-forth. I've replaced names (besides my own) with initials, and moved one snippet for clarity, but the conversation otherwise unfolded exactly as below:

The system that perpetuates the haves and the have nots is getting worse. Public schools around the country are adoption a "Pay to Play" mantra and I personally think it is absolutely ridiculous. To all of my inner city brethren and to all my underprivileged brethren- I AM SORRY!
FROM ABS at 8:37am July 10
if that means that public schools will pay tuition...im all for it..instead of me having to pay thru my real estate taxes! *Disclaimer: My opinion can beat up your opinion!*
FROM Neil Moakley at 9:31am July 10
Are you talking about this? http://www.babble.com/CS/blogs/strollerderby/archive/2009/04/09/is-pay-to-play-at-public-schools-fair.aspx
If so, that sounds pretty horrible.Because how much money your dad makes should determine how good your education is, right? :-p
There are a lot of excellent "for the public good" reasons why public schools don't--and shouldn't--charge tuition. I can't imagine saving a few bucks on property taxes to be a compelling counterargument.
FROM ABS at 12:16pm July 10
i paid for mine & my childrens education...there are alot of people out there who can pay and dont cause of a free ride...i view it like welfare...misused..dont believe senior citizens should have to pay either...i could go on & on...hope u get my point
ps i do believe however..to be fair, that it be based on income...those that can afford it should...those of lesser means or more than 1 child get a break...those as in this economy who are in dire straights for free w/volunteer work....this has become a country of wiifms...long past its history of hard work & embarressment for a free hand out.
FROM Neil Moakley at 12:27pm July 10
You paid for your own primary school education?
I don't buy the "free ride" argument in general, but it strikes me as especially false here. Even if you accept the argument that the welfare system is exploited, how in the world can you extend that analogy to education. . what's happening exactly, the freeloaders are *learning for free*?
You and I may have very different views on the social contract that a wealthy country like this one should have with its citizens, but from where I stand, basic education isn't something you're rewarded with because your parents have a big bank account--it's a fundamental right.
As to your second post, re income contingency--isn't that pretty much exactly what property tax-based education is doing? You own a lot, you pay a lot; you own a little, you pay a little...
A family exploiting this system seems like an outright fiction to me. Are we talking about a wealthy family who chooses to hide assets so as to lower their tax burden, and get away with sending their kids to public school without paying?
What you're saying sounds a lot like an overextension to the "welfare is bad" argument, which I won't address here, but I really don't see how it fits with education.
What I think JP is talking about in the original post, incidentally, is extracurricular activities, or what the schools deem "non-essential". This is still very problematic, but your idea of pay-to-attend-primary-school isn't being seriously considered by even the most libertarian of jurisdictions.
FROM ABS at 12:48pm July 10
Are you a home owner? hmmm...ok fair enough...all welfare issues aside...no one in this country is "entitled" to a anything...that is the problem...too many people thinking they are "entitled". Especially the rich. I came from a poor family...in fact, I had to wear shoes with cardboard in them when we couldnt afford new ones, however, I did attend school and yes (let me clarify) my parents always paid tuition first..education was the priority. As I still believe it should be today. But I find it hard to think anyone would have the audacity to think they were "entitled" to anything free...be it education or extra curricular activities..(I don't believe extra curricular activities are non-essential)...families exploiting the system is far from fiction...I am now a homeowner and as ignorant as you may find what I have to say...I dont want to have to lose my house in this tight economy or any other because my school taxes have doubled raising my mortgage to foreclosure
If homeowners who didnt have children in the school system paid even only 1 third I would be happy...there are many who rent with three or more (yes I know some) kids that don't pay anything and have the audacity to brag...at any rate, I would love to debate this over a cold brew as find you a formidable opponent and I love a good "debate"...Im female lol...but for now we will just have to agree to disagree.
ps...I just got my bill for school taxes and by the way...it is triple my house taxes and was just raised up while property values decrease...I like to hear the tax collector explain that! Although I will get by ok...hard to see it happening to the elderly who also already paid their dues for their own children.
FROM Neil Moakley at 12:58pm July 10
I still can't imagine the situation where someone exploits the property tax system to get their child a public education without paying their share, even though they are able to. That's what I'm calling a fiction, and I stand by it.
I don't think that what you have to say is ignorant; I think you've thought hard about it, and I suspect that the idea that you propose might work well for you, your family, and people in similar situations. It might even work better for ME.
But to me, equal education is a much bigger issue than whether or not my wallet is happy, or yes, even whether or not I can afford to stay in my home. There's no doubt in my mind, though, that public schools charging tuition = more children without access to decent education. And that's unacceptable to me, no matter HOW high my property taxes might climb.
As far as your recent example (which arrived as I was typing the above): saying that renters don't pay anything towards property tax is like saying that when you buy something from Wal-Mart that you're not paying for the cost of shipping the products out from the factory to the store...of course you are, it's a part of the retail price!
Landlords don't just eat the cost of property tax, it's right there in the $$$ the tenant coughs up every month.
As to your last point, I won't disagree that there are imperfections in the WAY that taxes are assessed. Property taxes could be more progressive, or loopholes could be more smartly constructed. I'm certainly not arguing for the status quo as what's best--I think the system is fundamentally broken. I just think education is right up there with "national security" on the short list of things the government's hands actually belong in.
FROM ABS at 1:15pm July 10
Let me clarify...I do believe there should be the same "quality" of education regardless of rich or poor...what Im trying to say is that the majority of the $$$ should be on the parents of these children to make sure they are providing for their child, not me or anyone else...if it happens, be grateful not feel "entitled". And yes as hard as it is for you to believe...renters may have a portion divided among them say in a building...however, is it fair that the old lady in apt A pay the same as the renters with 3 kids??? I think not but it does happen more often than not. I agree my opinion may seem harsh to some people..but I do believe this country as a whole needs a harsh awakening before it is too late...then maybe, just maybe we wont be left behind others in the education race once parents take a more hands on in their own children's education instead of looking for handouts..a helping hand is one thing...but a hand out is another and I have been around long enough to see this
Ps...nice to have met you Neil!
FROM JP at 2:32pm July 10
WOW, look what i started. Love the conversation, keep it up.
FROM Neil Moakley at 3:35pm July 10
The question of education funding, access, etc. very quickly exceeds the bounds of these little comment boxes on Facebook. Although I understand your reasons for feeling the way you do, ABS, I maintain that a pay-as-you-go program for education, even heavily subsidized, would be a colossal mistake. The only thing it has to recommend it is an apparent sense of "fairness", but to me that fairness is only skin deep.
If there is *any* such thing as a public good, then education has got to be one. You'll be hard pressed to find many serious economic arguments for removing the government's obligation to provide national security. Everyone benefits and few complain, even though it's entirely possible that my life was never *directly* saved by the actions of the armed forces.
A nearly identical argument exists for education; the childless property owner is not paying for "someone else's kids" to go to school on their dime. That money is the responsibility of a WHOLE community investing in its own future. You don't get to "opt out"; it's part of the price we pay--like the taxes that go to national defense--for having reaped the innumerable benefits of living in a prosperous, free, and opportunity-filled country. And we all--from the most fortunate of us to the least fortunate--have benefited--even those of us with the cardboard shoes of your childhood or the food stamps of mine.
Compelling arguments exist that suggest that the basic rights of the citizens of any wealthy country could be extended further--to healthcare, to housing, even to internet access...all those arguments have been made.
But we don't need to go there: the argument for education as a public good--benefiting far more than "my" child or "your" child--is well-established, and even antedates the United States. Thomas Paine was an advocate, and there's been a strong tradition of support for the idea since.
The problem is that people like philosophy and "big ideas" until it hits them in the wallet. The trade-off for ANY taxation is always "am I willing to be SLIGHTLY less well-off so that the nation as a whole is slightly BETTER off?" My answer is yes, even if it pains me on tax day.
Once I've accepted the assumption that education is a public good and that we are not, in fact, "paying for our own", but instead providing financial support for the system that is in part responsible for our own successes...well, then the rest of my perspective comes pretty easily. What's key for me:
- For the above reasons, primary and secondary (K-12) education should be largely government-funded. I don't care if there are people exploiting this system. If there are, then they'll hopefully get a good education out of it. That's the whole point!
- So long as education funding is chiefly the responsibility of state or local governments, rather than Washington, the ways in which public funding can be gathered are necessarily limited. Local income taxes are low, and state income taxes are already well-spoken for. Sales taxes would have to be significantly higher to cover education expenses, and suffer from all the same sort-of problems as property taxes, PLUS most economists seem to agree that sales tax-based systems would be more regressive (that is, they eat a larger portion of poor people's incomes than rich people's)
So there aren't that many local tax sources available. The other common idea besides property taxes is state lottery funds. Lotteries are optional, unlike taxes, but may result in revenue shortfalls AND tend to be *very* regressive.
I agree that the property tax system is imperfect. A progressive system where those who've benefited the most from the wealth and prosperity of our society should owe the most to that society. But there's no perfect way to measure and tax that. Until I hear a better idea, property taxes seem to come the closest for me.
Of course, all this means that property taxation needs to be fair. THAT'S a whole other issue. Property value assessments are notoriously corrupt here in Philadelphia, and we're far from the only place. But that's a problem with the assessment system, and not the principle that underlies education funding.
FROM ABS at 3:50pm July 10
I think your mixing apples w/oranges when you mix "defense" with the "education" debate...with out the right to defend ourselves...our debate would not be able to happen as this country would no longer be able to have the free speech to learn whatever we set our minds to learn and say! If not for that we wouldnt be able to have an opinion at all, now forget education.
"There's no doubt in my mind, though, that public schools charging tuition = more children without access to decent education. And that's unacceptable to me, no matter HOW high my property taxes might climb."
Either you have $$ or you dont own property or both...and if so..would you risk your own property to be on the streets for the good of the "community"?
Again like I said, we will just have to agree to disagree as I see you are an Idealist and I am a Realist.
FROM Neil Moakley at 4:03pm July 10
ABS, you write:
"Either you have $$ or you dont own property or both...and if so..would you risk your own property to be on the streets for the good of the "community"?
Again like I said, we will just have to agree to disagree as I see you are an Idealist and I am a Realist."
You've presented me with a set of false dichotomies here:
1. The choice is not between risking my own property or neglecting the good of the community. I have the same selfish desire that we all do: to put myself and my own well-being first. I could live a less frugal life if I was singularly focused on the well-being of me and mine. But I'm not. The community doesn't come first, but it doesn't come last either. It's not me vs. them. It's "US". The taxes and sacrifices of other people helped make it possible for me to get a great education. I'm not going to turn my back on that system now that I'm no longer reaping the benefit.
2. I'm an idealist AND a realist. I look for solutions that work BEYOND the ones that are easiest. It would be easiest for me, without children, to not have to subsidize public education. But it wouldn't be right. I don't daydream, but I look forward to what CAN be, not just what IS.
It's *easy* to forget this kind of stuff when our bank accounts dip to dangerous places. I think that's when it's most important that we don't.
Also, on a more practical level, your "I can't spare another penny" argument is a little out of proportion. I don't know how it is where you are, but here in Philly, less than half of the assessed property taxes go to the school district. Add to that that the BRT has been woefully lax and corrupt in their assessments, and really, we're paying hardly *anything* for education.
If the above case was too idealistic, here are some more pragmatic considerations:
- how much money is it worth for you to live in a community filled with people with a decent high school level education or higher? How much would you have to save for it to be worth it to, say, allow 10% of your neighbors to not have adequate schooling? 20%? It's not just touchy-feely idealism to say "I want to do my part to ensure that my community is adequately educated", it's a position of self-interest, too. It's not that long a road from inferior public school education to shortages of doctors, nurses, and other highly-educated professions. It's in both of our self-interests to mitigate that risk.
- the Program for International Student Assessment is the primary measure by which American student performance is assessed. We rank below the OECD average in both math and science, and we're not doing too hot among non-OECD countries either. Literacy is being assessed this year, and I expect similar results.
Here's a partial list of countries that do better than us: Finland, Canada, Japan, France, UK, Germany, most of Western Europe, etc...not to mention South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, and about a dozen more. Now, I don't know the funding sources for education for ALL of these countries, but *most* of them acquire their funding from *all* citizens, not just those with school-age children. As I said above, there are many well-founded public policy reasons for doing so.
Again, I haven't done the research on all of them, but I'd be *very* surprised to see a pay-as-you-go system ranked higher than ours.
There is a real problem with a property tax based system, of course, but it's not the one we're discussing here. The problem is that funds are distributed on a pretty tight regional basis. That means that across the river, the Camden city schools are funded by the paltry property taxes received from Camden residents. As one of the poorest cities in the country, this is not exactly a pot of gold. As a result, the district is underfunded, the students are undereducated, and the community is less able to do the bootstrap-pulling necessary to raise those property values, etc etc.
I DO think a good argument can be made that more funding is NOT the solution. We spend more per student than all countries but one in that list I mentioned above. Clearly, something more than dollars needs to be addressed. That's the real core of the problem. And to bring this back on point, which I think you, me, and JP *all* agree with--eliminating access to extra-curricular activities is NOT the way to success.
FROM JP at 8:26pm July 10
NEIL, Can we get married in the state of Pennsylvania??? I want your mind, body, and soul. On a more serious note, I agree with both of your arguments and disagree with both of your arguments. However, the real problem is where that funding is going and why does our society allow public schools to cut programs like; music, women's soccer, and tennis. Hence, eliminating too many extra-curricular activities. thereby putting those kids on the streets to fend for themselves. And to compound that problem, their parents either dont care too much about their kids whereabouts or those children come from a 2 income household and neither parent is around to look after the children. NO WIN SITUATION THERE!!!
FROM ABS at 1:17am July 11
Ok college boy...I dont agree with most of what you are stating...all the stats in the world wont convince me fully of your arguement...Im not a dr, lawyer or indian chief...I am a collector by trade and have been in the finance world for over 20 years...I see nationwide the horrors happening to people due to the corrupt misuse of government funding from housing to education and taxes...I didnt get my stats out of a book...they are from real life experiences....HOWEVER...I will agree with your last post about......
I DO think a good argument can be made that more funding is NOT the solution. We spend more per student than all countries but one in that list I mentioned above. Clearly, something more than dollars needs to be addressed. That's the real core of the problem. And to bring this back on point, which I think you, me, and JP *all* agree with--eliminating access to extra-curricular activities is NOT the way to success.
TO JP: I agree! "And to compound that problem, their parents either dont care too much about their kids whereabouts or those children come from a 2 income household and neither parent is around to look after the children. NO WIN SITUATION THERE!!!"
Aside from the not caring which is a separate argument...this problem has gone way far back to the era when the American family came to the point of HAVING to be a 2 income family...it once was a luxury now a necessity which also has had its hand in the deterioration of the American people as a society...both parents working to make ends meet..children amuck...hard to keep values in tack when at least one parent is not able/willing to give quality time to their children..then to compound matters..when something goes wrong..no one wants to own up to their own responsibilities..and this is the attitude carried forward to the offspring. Maybe we as a society need to start over from scratch..humm
Niel..not meant to give false dichotomies..I am all about thinking outside the box for a solution..which is different from how I believe we as a society have arrived at the point we are now..for quite a few decades now, we as a society have been pretty much "doing things" the way your beliefs are..and..Ideally it should work, however, Realistically ITS JUST NOT WORKING..the merry go round needs to stop and the freeloaders (rich middle & poor who feel "entitled") need to get off and take responsibility for themselves and the families they have created and not rely on "the people" for a hand out be it for whatever reason.....
This is is the last I will be posting..not for sake of surrender so much as I think we have beat this subject to death and still butt heads in certain areas..but I respect your right to free speech which might I add was defended by our defense lol
Maybe we missed our calling to be in politics..wouldn't doubt we would get more done than the corrupt idiots there now!
FROM Neil Moakley at 10:00am July 11
Sorry--I'm pretty sure one of us would have to dress as a lady, and I don't feel like shaving.
I agree with you that the money available FOR education isn't spend in the best ways. As I said earlier in this thread, I think the system is fundamentally broken. But in terms of where the money comes *from*, which is ABS's complaint, I don't have any ideas for how we can do better. I just know that charging tuition is a TERRIBLE idea, for the reasons I outlined above and more.
Seriously? If you don't see what's wrong with using "college boy" as a half-joking pejorative...if you don't see what's wrong with privileging your limited personal experience over the rest of the knowledge and experience out there...then we don't have much left to talk about. That's a kind of anti-intellectualism that makes me sick to my stomach, to assume that there's some down-home salt-of-the-earth "knowledge" that somehow trumps "all that book-learnin'". It's insulting that you would use words that suggest so.
The fact that you choose such an inopportune moment to unleash the "I know better because I was in the real world while you were in school" stereotype speaks volumes, too. The only "statistics" I cited were the metrics by which student performances are compared internationally...a topic YOU brought up.
I wish you wouldn't have used your last few posts as a jumping off point to complain excessively about freeloaders, pining for a non-existent "way things used to be", while misunderstanding my argument and denigrating the very educational system that we're discussing by suggesting that things like "going to college" or "using statistics" actually make an argument LESS sound.
Without that emotive rhetoric, I was enjoying the opportunity to discuss these ideas. Now I leave with a bad taste in my mouth, and the sense that you weren't paying attention to much that I said.

UPDATE: The following posts were added to the discussion since the initial draft of this blog entry:

FROM ABS at 8:32pm July 10
Ok one last encore..I wasn't trying to be too insulting however I felt you were being condescending with all your stats as someone who was "educated" as opposed to a person who has "hands on" experience"..from your reaction, I may have been right-moving forward..yes I am living it first hand and am currently viewing it from a second hand standpoint from people I deal with on a daily basis. You yourself just stated you didnt know a "solution" but stated Tuition was wrong...you dont know that if you dont have a solution...it just may be the solution or part of a solution...I would have expected better from you than to come to the table to discuss an issue without a solution..I did offer one and backed it up with my reason why..whether it be a good one or not I had an answer..when one can bring to the table not only their opinion as to why someone else's opinion is not a good one...have ready a good one that is more feasible. Until then discussing this subject further is a mute point.
Part of the problem with society is alot of people want something done to correct problems that arise in every situation, they will complain and fuss and be negative about ideas that dont meet their idealism of what should be...however...many of those same people never come to the table with a solution..I have learned from many of my higher ups in the chain of command to never come to the table with a problem and voice your opinion without the offer of a solution be it good or bad and if you dont have a solution to at least be quiet or have an open mind to at least try one that is offered without knocking it...especially when it hasnt been tested to see if it would work. If more families had to invest even a small amount of $$ I believe there would be more of an interest in the quality. I also believe anything just handed out is never quite as appreciated as something earned. I would like to think that most people would have pride and honor in something they had a hand in doing.
I was paying attention to what you said...however...you will not sway me from my beliefs which is I feel is your goal. Again not that I am not open for alternative options...but one would have to bring one to the table in the first place in order to have a starting point in which to present a case.
If and when you may have a real solution to bring...please let me know...until then I wish you well and I am done with this subject.
FROM Neil Moakley at 1:42am July 11
Hmm. I see now that we're not only far apart on the issue of how to fund public education, but on quite a few other pretty important things. I'm not going to take the bait on every oversimplification or mischaracterization that you squeezed into your last few posts, but I will bite on a few:
- This is the second time you've set up "being educated" and "having 'hands-on' experience" as oppositional. Is it really that hard to imagine that someone might be BOTH? Just because I don't share your point of view doesn't mean that I don't have an equally valid wealth of experience to draw from.
- The reason I don't have a "solution" is because I don't think the problem you've imagined actually exists. I think that the property tax system is a flawed-but-effective way of paying for schools.
- You're misapplying the "never come to the table without a solution" maxim. If there's a problem that it's conceivably your responsibility to develop a solution for, then yes, your higher-ups are right to want to hear creative ideas from you: even if they're not ultimately implemented. However
1. While brainstorming sessions benefit from being judgment free, there *is* such a thing as a "bad idea". I've been polite here, but you've done little to convince me that "pay for it yourself" public education isn't one of these.
2.More generally, the pointing-out of problems and the proposing of solutions do NOT have to come from the same place. Restaurants often have comment cards at the door. Would you, as a restaurant proprietor, throw out any comment card that said "the burgers were bland" if the author didn't provide an improved recipe? The job of improving the educational system falls primarily on our educators and elected officials, and economists are far better suited to an analysis of tax policy than we are. The fact that I am not qualified to propose a solution does NOT mean that I'm not qualified to illustrate potential problems.
3. You say you're interested in alternative options, but you really only mean "options that reduce MY burden to provide education funding." I think you SHOULD pay, as do most others. I haven't seen any evidence that your mind is open to *that* possibility.
So here's my real solution for you: we ought to revisit how money is allocated and spent for education, what is taught and by whom. We should absolutely NOT consider education funding to be the sole responsibility of those who are currently in the public school system. Universal or near-universal taxation for education is the right choice, just as it is for national defense, social security, and the NIH, among countless others.
I've made this conversation, with names obscured, available for comment on my website, as I'd like it to see a broader audience than just the three of us. You're welcome to comment there, as others already have. It can be found at the following link:

UPDATE 2: The following posts were added to the discussion since the second draft of this blog entry:

FROM ABS at 11:29am July 11
Hahahaha I should have caught on sooner you were a ringer..I must be slipping..of course your now incorporating others to back you...I dont need to do so either on here or via a website and of course all your little groupies who side with you for a free ride must be getting one or planning on receiving one, will agree with your case..you say you were insulted but have no bones about insulting or involving others to join in on the insults of someone they dont know bringing up wrong scenarios of how one must be...I would have so much more to say..and not afraid to do so however I wont suffer fools...idealists like you and your cultist are what put this country where it is.
Print away so you can have all you want to stand behind you since you cant do this on your own but this is my final post:
-raise the sales tax to 10% so everyone is paying
-teachers that are overpaid (yes & most are extremely overpaid) go if they wont reduce their pay for the good of education and give the jobs to the ones out of college & out of work. Some of these teachers & admins make upwards of 60k to 150k &  put the diff back into the schools, if you think the quality of ed will suffer by the new grads then you dont believe in your own education system
--retired folks pay 0
-folks 65 or under w/0 kids pay 1/3 to 1/2 of realty taxes
-young couples with kids should pay a percentage per child as yes I still believe any parent who refuses to pay even a small percentage to invest in their own children is the slacker and wants a free ride...why want someone else to pay for your child when you dont want to either (not talking about those in dire straights that absolutly cant pay)
There are so many more solutions to make paying for a good "free" education fair so that EVERYONE SHARES IN THE EXPENSE. Not just home owners...and by the way...all of you "entitled" people out there...there is no such thing as 'free"...someone else is always footing the bill one way or the other for you "entitled freeloaders"!
FROM Neil Moakley at 12:25pm July 11
Wow. Because I thought this debate deserved a wider audience than a single person's comment page, I'm now "a ringer" (as though that means anything!), and a "cultist" with "little groupies who side with [me] for a free ride". Overreaction much?
I have a few hundred connections here on Facebook, that I've formed through my life. I know all but a handful in real life, and their politics are spread throughout the spectrum, from crazy liberal to crazy conservative. These are the people that I invited to read and comment on my publicly available blog. What you think is me insecurely wanting others to "back my opinion" is actually me seeking a broader perspective than merely what one lady has to say.
I think your idea is a bad one that's been shown as an ineffective solution contrary to democratic ideals for more than two centuries. BUT...that doesn't mean I'm insulting you. Contrary to what you say above, that just hasn't been happening. If you disagree, please point out where it's happened.
As to your final final post (you should really stop saying that if you plan on coming back whenever I reply):
- As I already noted, sales taxes are more regressive than property taxes. Are you okay with the poor paying a greater share than the rich?
- Teachers are overpaid?? I'm not sure if you had much support to begin with, but I suspect you just lost some. If 60k doesn't seem a fair price to pay for experienced and talented teachers, I don't know what to tell you.
Here are some starting salaries for college graduates in 2008:
And here is the salary table for the School District of Philadelphia
Starting salaries are in the middle-bottom of the pack. Sorry to use elitist "data" again.
- People without children already tend to pay less under a property tax system, because, correcting for neighborhood and economic situation, larger families live in larger properties.
- Senior citizens who are in financial need ALREADY have caps on the property taxes they pay.
- The average money spent per student per year in America is around $9500. The average effective property tax in Philadelphia is about 2.33% of market value, (or $5800 for a $250k home), of which slightly more than half goes to the school district. Without getting into the complications of inflation or discounting money to present value, this means that 13 years of education for two kids costs nearly $250,000. Most of your ideas have ignored the reality of these numbers. Even if making everyone pay for public education was a bad idea (it's not), it's financially untenable to shift the burden primarily to families of school-age children, as you suggest.
There's more to be said, but you've really stopped addressing anything I've written: I'm still waiting on a response on my criticism of your realism vs. idealism fallacy, or your suggestion that there's never any value to identifying problems if you don't also identify solution.
If you don't like the timbre of the conversation on my blog entry, by the way, you're welcome to post there and defend yourself. It is, as I've already mentioned, publicly accessible.

Fin, at least for now. I'll update this post if there's more. Thoughts?


  1. Founding fathers believed in compulsory, gratis public education because they felt that an educated populace was the best way to preserve democracy.

    "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. ME 5:396

    "[Surely no] tax can be called that which we give to our children in the most valuable of all forms, that of instruction... An addition to our contributions almost insensible... in fact, will not be felt as a burden, because applied immediately and visibly to the good of our children." --Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:422

    In addition, the griping about having to pay to educate children when you are childless or old... sorry charlie... but should parents have to pay every dime necessary to produce the next generation of doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc. that will take care of EVERYONE when they're old? Ridiculous. We already feed, clothe, house and nurture children for the future, it's not THAT much to ask that the public help provide for their education.

  2. Seems to me we pay a lot less money by contributing to the education of the general public than we would be by the alternative-- having a bunch of inadequately educated people that are fundamentally incapable of being self-sufficient or significantly contributing to the tax base. Isn't chipping in for their education cheaper than having to pay for everything else, too?

  3. College is not an affordable option for the majority of people in this country (or the world?). For even simpler reasons, some standard of 12th grade education, or beyond, is not a universal human possibility. Plainly, we are nice enough to let some folks by with a 9th grade education and call it 12th. Colleges, sorry, Universities, aren't as generous.

    Now these people that can't make it to the highly educated Utopia still have a basic right to freedom and happiness. Happiness takes 9 months to ferment and then you need to grow another.

    You can't take the right to multiply away from people based on their finances, education, disabilities, or circumstances. (We will need a new habitable rock soon, btw.)

    Families don't always stick together. Sometimes a mother feels that parenthood is not befitting her lifestyle so she'll throw her three children to the curb just a few months after splitting up with her on-the-go husband. Thankfully, those children can stay with their friends' families (instead of burdening society with more lawsuits, prison costs, and child care arrangements). These kids can have a tough time sticking to the play-book, so lets just suppose a few of them get knocked up or do some impregnating.

    I mean, have you seen the cost of condoms? How much do teenagers earn again?

    Have you seen their efficacy amongst kids who don't know how to use them right? Or maybe they just don't feel right.

    Or maybe they might put the breaks on a budding "relationship." Or maybe their high will keep them from making prudent decisions.

    In any case, this is the real world. There is no way of stopping this from happening. And it really happens. If you perfect society in the US you will still have to work out how to Utopianize those aliens.

    My 20 year old sister now has seven children. Two of these beautiful, intelligent, children came about through youthful indiscretion with less than Utopian father figures. She met a hard working 20 something with two girls of his own. There were six of them living all together and then their love fermented into a round seven. They've since married. Recently they became the best suited family to adopt their niece and nephew who had abusive parents. All of these children are under the age of seven.

    I don't see how my working sister (who picked up a GED at 16) and her working husband can be expected to afford their own college education (which has been paused and resumed throughout the last five years) and that of their seven children for the next thirteen years.

    Have you seen the cost of day-care recently?

    She can make more money living on PA's cash assistance than she could working a 9-5 while paying for daycare. This isn't a new problem with her current family size, this financial analysis was true when she was the single mother of two.

    Put me on the record for:
    - taxing everyone for free k-12 education
    - taxing everyone for free pre-k child care
    - taxing everyone for paid maternity or paternity leave (maybe both for a short period)

    I'm not going to try to work out whether education should be federalized or otherwise attempt to work out the best tax solution. I don't know if real-estate, sales, luxury, income, or stupidity taxes (lottery) work best for this.

    I also believe that education is one of those fundamental properties of unionization that deserves everyone's dues, new members (except the under or unemployed) and long standing ones. (Should we discuss retirement?)

    If you would prefer the analogy of paying for road work through car sale taxes, tolls, fines, and registration fees, which would seem to support parents paying their own way, consider that driving is a privilege while parenthood (happiness?) is a right.

    I also believe that an educated society is a safer one and security also brings happiness, so I'll call education a right too.

  4. I hit a 4k comment limit there.. Here's the rest:

    There are certainly ways the existing system could be improved which should bring down the cost of education. Anywhere that money could be saved would help the overall situation.

    If the costs citizens incur was reduced their need to earn would lessen. This would allow them to work less and closer to home. This would give them more time to pick up an education (if they missed it while earning a living after the 12th grade) or spend more time with their children which is the simplest, and in some cases best, form of free education.

    I also agree with Lynn and Jeff. I doubt you will find a majority view in the JP and ABS camps.

  5. Jeff, Lynn, and Thomas Jefferson:

    Thank you for concisely illustrating much of what I was trying to say!


    I'll have to do a word count to see which one of us has contributed more to this conversation! You bring up quite a few new subjects; I think I find myself mostly in agreement, but I'll have to take some more time to reread all you've written

    For everyone:

    There are a few new back-and-forths on the original conversation, which I've updated this post to reflect.

  6. It's kind of ironic that we're debating who gets a free education over the internet, when most of the families who would be affected by these changes don't even have a computer.

    Public programs are meant to be tools to help our society progress. True, there are some people who abuse some of these programs. But if you take them away, more people will suffer. And in this case, innocent children will suffer the most.

    By giving children access to these basic services (education, health care, etc), we are giving them the chance to change their situation and work themselves out of poverty. As a society, there tends to be the belief that you can get out of poverty just by working hard. But, in order for that to work, we (who are not poor) have to lend a hand to help.

  7. Susan,

    Your second paragraph is important. For any social welfare (lower case 'w') program, it seems that access can either be set up so that

    1: Everyone who is genuinely needy has access, and a few people can game and abuse the system


    2: No one can game and abuse the system, but not everyone who is genuinely needy has access.

    From a public policy standpoint, the need for these programs to reach all those who need them far outweighs the "damn freeloaders!" argument.

  8. I would think that if all of you could put more energy into compromising a real workable solution that made sense for everyone involved instead of sitting behind a computer complaining about who's side is right or wrong & monitoring issues that from what I have read have gotten far from the original debate...more would get accomplished..less words & more action is what is needed. I can see both sides of the coin here but not many seem real enough to work.

    Marques: You seem to be the most level headed commenter on here so far...kudos to you!

  9. Anonymous,

    I have a few questions about your post

    1. Why anonymous? Everyone else has used their real name here. It's easier to remember that the people you're talking with online are real people when that happens. Your prerogative, of course, but I prefer to know who I'm talking to.

    2. What do you mean by "solution"? This debate doesn't purport to be about education reform in general, but instead is focused on the narrow question of who, philosophically, should pay for public education. As I said in the original post, I have no obligation to provide a "solution" if I don't think there's a problem in the first place.

    3. Why do you assume that, because we are passionate enough about this topic to engage in a public debate about it online, that we're NOT ALSO putting energy into putting together a "real workable solution"? Again with the mutual exclusivity! It's not either-or. You're making a big assumption when you guess that none of us put our money, our brains, or our hands where our mouths are. The public discourse that this conversation is a very small part of is NECESSARY to engender effective action--otherwise, we act without thinking things through, which doesn't lead to good results.