Monday, the State Newspaper published an OpEd by Randy Page dealing with the explosive growth of K-12 education spending in South Carolina.
Surprisingly Page begins by agreeing with left-leaning editor Cindi Scoppe, who earlier published on the failure of the property-sales tax of 2006. Scoppe is frustrated with the regressiveness of a sales tax and the shifting of property taxes to business. Page agrees, but goes on to qualify:
[Scoppe’s] prescription is an overhaul of the tax code. But if we’re going to talk about the tax swap, what we need to talk about is how the end result was a tax hike. We also need to consider how much funding already goes to public schools, how fast the funding has grown and why only 44 cents on the dollar reaches the classroom in instructional spending.
Page explains how the pennies-per-day sales tax provided political cover both for state politicians and local politicians. State lawmakers claimed to have cut property taxes and local governments were able to sneak in millage hikes and reassessment.
The heart of this argument is that public school spending -always used to justify growth in taxes- is already high, and should not grow unchecked. Page goes on:
On the spending side, Scoppe compares tax dollars for public schools with spending on fire service. This is both empirically and philosophically wrong. With more than $11,480 per student in public school spending in 2008, South Carolina spends hundreds more than its Southeastern neighbors. With a growing achievement gap between black and white students, and South Carolina’s “best” public schools lagging far behind their peers in North Carolina or Georgia, many parents are questioning how increased spending will reform the system.
The OpEd continues with an explanation of how the importance of education as a public good justifies taxation and public spending but not inefficient and under-perofrming schools. He points to South Carolina’s popular college and pre-kindergarten scholarships as examples of a public good facilitated through marketplace competition. He concludes his argument with an insight into how Scoppe and others on the left have wrongly framed the problems of education in a manner that will always support more spending.
Finally, Ms. Scoppe’s suggestion that “school taxes pay to educate the children of South Carolina, not the children of the individual taxpayer” is troublesome. The state of South Carolina does not have any children of its own. Government is simply the framework in which individuals cooperate and a structure for balancing the benefits and burdens of that cooperation.
Many families who pay taxes find the public schools in South Carolina to be academically ineffective. Others worry that public schools transmit values in conflict with their own. When parents are compelled to remove children from public schools for these legitimate reasons, and are then forced to pay for schools they don’t utilize, the government is punishing families for responsible parenting.
The full editorial is online here.