Tuesday, July 19, 2005

School is Taxing

This might surprise some people, but I am actually for the idea of giving compensation for those taxpayers who also send their children to private and parochial schools. At least in New York City.

I have had reservations in the past of giving taxpayer money to religious institutions, like parochial schools, but on the other hand it really is not right to have parents pay double. One might argue that going to a private school is a luxury burden that parents put on themselves, they could easily just take advantage of the free public school system and stop bellyaching.

But can they really?

Schools in New York City are packed. They barely have room (not even, they don't have room!) for the number of students that are there today. Suppose that tomorrow all of the Jewish schools and Catholic schools and all the private schools decided to enroll their kids in the public school system. They would have nowhere to go! The fact of the matter is that the public school option is closed.

Given that there are all these children who cannot get an education within the system why are their parents being taxed to support it?

Some might argue that to take away such tax dollars from the public school system would put it in a worse place than it is today. It's already screwed up and underfunded. It needs that money.

Well, my first answer is that the objection is fallacious. Yes, the system may need the money, but why should such money be continuously received through what is essentially governmentally approved theft of the taxpayers. Taxpayers are not all wealthy. They need their money too.

Secondly, the system wouldn't be so screwed up if it wasn't wracked with stupidity and corruption. There are so many wasted dollars throughout the public school system in everything it does. If they would streamline it efficiently they would have enough funding to do well by every student.

However, my approval of compensation has a caveat. Such backfunding can only be given to those institutions that actually educate their students in a manner in accordance to a quality standard. What I envision is not giving tax credits or tax deductions or vouchers directly to parents (since such plans almost always favor the wealthy) but to take care of it through the institution side of things. An institution reports to the city or state how many students it has and receives a monetary package from them. That way the schools can then lower their tuitions and parents feel indirect tax relief.

But as I was getting to, such schools would only get that monetary package if their curriculum included a standard level of education for the various important subjects. Giving money to parents to send their kids to a non-educational institution is counter-productive. The students would have to learn English and Science and History, etc. The little corner Hasidic yeshivah where kids come out without even knowing English would never get such funding. Every school would have a standard education that would be paid by the state, but if they want extras like classes in Gemara or Hebrew or Gospel studies (thinking of those Catholics of course) that bill they'll need to foot themselves.

So, in this grand plan, not only are parents being duly compensated, but the levels of education for many students would have to increase.


Jewish Atheist said...

It's in the country's best interest to educate everybody. That's why taxes pay for everybody's education, not just your kid's. It's like highways or scientific research.

Imagine parents of a kid with a very rare disease. A portion of their taxes goes towards scientific research at the discretion of the federal government, but they would like to keep their tax money and instead use it for research on the rare disease. Instead of many people benefitting from the money, only their kid would.

One could easily argue that this is fair. I suppose it gets to the whole issue of taxation -- should each person spend his money how he wants or do we have an obligation as Americans to pool our resources and try to do the most good for as many people as possible? I don't think either answer is right or wrong. On the one hand, taxes are taken involuntarily, and on the other, more good comes of it, at least in theory.

Try to imagine what the results would be if people could allocate their money instead of giving it as taxes. The rich would gain a disproportionate amount of the benefits, since they are in command of more dollars. There would be little money going towards meeting the poor's educational needs and as a result, the poor children would receive an even worse education than they do now, widening the educational gap between them and the rich. There would be much less research on health problems which disproportionately affect the poor. Similarly, highways between rich areas would be great, while roads in poor and rural areas would be even worse. Police protection would be extreme in rich neighborhoods and non-existent in poor ones.

We already suffer to an extent from a lot of these problems, but they would only increase if people had more discretion as to where their tax dollars went.

On the plus side, I have trouble imagining people earmarking their taxes for war, so maybe wars would go down.

Orthoprax said...


"It's in the country's best interest to educate everybody. That's why taxes pay for everybody's education, not just your kid's. It's like highways or scientific research."

It's like those things, but it's not quite. It is true that education for all is good for society as a whole but what does the state care where or how you educate your child?

Putting your child in public school costs the state money. It's another student to educate. So the money you pay in tax is effectively being returned to you. But by taking your child out of public school, you are then saving the state money.

That "saved" money is not a gift. It was money that was supposed to be used for the education of your child. The state is then neither losing or gaining funding for education by giving you back the money they would have to be giving you anyway through educating your child.

In New York City, I think a recent figure has it costing per capita $4,300 or so per student per year. Put some of that towards public school infrastructure, sure, but whatever it costs to educate one student - that should be returned to parents of schoolchildren because that would have been returned _anyway._

Jewish Atheist said...

That's a good point.

You'd still be left with the problem of even greater rich flight from the public schools. As it is, most of the very rich already attend private schools. With vouchers, more and more of the upper-middle, middle-, and even lower-middle classes will send their kids to private schools while the poor will be stuck with ever worsening public schools. Even if schools have as much money per capita as they do now, with all of the upper- and middle-class students gone, there would be much less incentive for those people in power (i.e. rich people) to improve the public schools. It's not just money.

Orthoprax said...

As far as I'm concerned, the public school system as it exists today is mostly a failure. If schooling were to become completely privatized I would not shed many tears.

The extreme bureaucracy and waste that goes on at every level of public education is incredible.

But these private schools would have to be non-profit businesses, that way the poorest people would still be able to go and receive scholarships for study. That's the way yeshivahs work today.

Enigma4U said...

Apparentely, Shmuely Boteach is in agreement with you. See here:


Orthoprax said...


Not quite, he appears to believe that it is best if the government pays for religious studies as well. I am a strict church(synagogue) and state separater.

But his agreement with my point of view doesn't effect the rightness or wrongness of the opinion. I may disagree with the way he came to his view but that's not uncommon.

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