Friday Reading List: The Original Sin of Schooling As We Know It Is Property Taxes. Seriously.

Justin Cohen

Everyone needs to read Alana Semuels’s long piece in the Atlantic about the historical roots of using property taxes to fund schools. The piece uses Connecticut as a case study:

The discrepancies occur largely because public school districts in Connecticut, and in much of America, are run by local cities and towns and are funded by local property taxes. High-poverty areas like Bridgeport and New Britain have lower home values and collect less taxes, and so can’t raise as much money as a place like Darien or Greenwich, where homes are worth millions of dollars … In every state, though, inequity between wealthier and poorer districts continues to exist. That’s often because education is paid for with the amount of money available in a district, which doesn’t necessarily equal the amount of money required to adequately teach students … the fact remains that delegating education funding to local communities increases inequality.

I am a radical on this issue, as I believe that the link between property taxes and schooling revenues needs to be abolished. I get annoyed when defenders of the education status quo say that we need to “fully fund” schools, not because I don’t want schools to have more resources, but because that’s only part of the problem; the words “fully fund” are meaningless if the definition of “fully” is predicated on the whims of local school boards in segregated, suburban communities, which is where most of the power in public schooling currently sits. This system takes an already classist and racist education system and exacerbates it with all the classism, racism, and segregation built into our country’s housing apparatus. In Connecticut, like many states, plaintiffs are using clauses in the state constitution to argue that a funding system based on property taxes in unconstitutional. Because the US constitution is silent on education, state courts are probably the best current venue for remedies, but the system is inequitable to its core.