I have been watching and listening to multiple state and local leaders articulating their priorities for next year. And much of what I hear is music to my ears. I support a longer school day, I support universal pre-K, and I support no increase and, if possible, a decrease in local and state taxes. What is there that anyone could argue with in this ambitious agenda?
If you take a look at much of the K-12 education that we already provide in our local communities, there are often areas where more could be done or more resources are necessary. I live in an excellent school district but we are nevertheless constrained. There are a significant number of excellent districts; and there are unfortunately too many districts that are far from excellent. Dated facilities, limited technology, dated textbooks, and limited support services are just a few of the symptoms of districts that are not able to provide what is needed. And please remember that the end result of not providing the inputs that are necessary is that the children in the schools are at a disadvantage, one that often lasts throughout their careers and their lives. These kids would benefit from universal pre-K and they would benefit from a longer school day but before we do more, with an added cost, we first need to make sure what we are doing is being done as well as possible.
Universal pre-K and a longer school day are very worthwhile objectives but cannot be implemented with the present resources and obviously require added funding. Where will that come from? Vastly greater government or school efficiency? At the margin perhaps there are a few resources that can be reallocated. But the bulk of what is necessary will have to come from added taxes. Either very visible taxes such as income or property taxes or more subtle taxes such as sales taxes or fees. Other than income taxes, much of our tax structure is regressive. Increased taxes can be positioned as impacting only the rich, or millionaires, or the top 1%. But if the tax is only on the top 1%, and if the increase is reasonable, I doubt that sufficient funds will be generated for what needs to be done. Who, then, do you tax next?
Robust growth can of course lead to more employment, higher income, greater purchases and as a consequence, more revenue for government. Our economy is stronger but the growth won’t be sufficient to provide the resources we need. The reality is that at best we will be able to make token progress in these new priorities given the constraints we operate under. And if that is the case, my vote and my priority would be to concentrate on doing better what we are already doing rather than do more but with too little of it done well.
Originally published on Inside Higher Ed