September 13, 2005
Money and Education
As most of you probably know, Metro Nashville is voting today on a proposed sales tax increase (good grief..) that would bring the combined state and local rates to 9.75% (which is the highest allowed under state law). Some of the revenue increase is slated for the Metro public schools. You can find more info on lots of blogs, but you can start with Nathan Moore (anti) and Sharon Cobb (pro) and Bruce Barry (undecided?).
Meanwhile, the Mayors of the four most populous counties in the state are planning a meeting to discuss the BEP (Basic Education Program) and the inequities they feel it imposes on urban school districts. This is a conundrum, because supposedly the whole reason for the BEP was that rural districts weren't getting fair funding from the state. I do remember School Board member Debbie Colburn vowing to address the BEP issue if she were to be elected to the House of Representatives in District 30 (she wasn't, but she put up a good fight).
There's just never enough money for a good public education in Tennessee. We're always ranked in the bottom 5-10 states (depending on who's doing the ranking) for education spending, so that leaves everyone scrapping over the dribble. Urban vs. rural, property owners vs. teachers, the poor vs. the middle class. These kinds of tug-of-war games shouldn't have to be played over schools, and it's my view that they wouldn't (as much) if education were more of a priority in everyone's mind.
Part of the problem is that, for some, education of their children exclusively, never mind anyone else's is a priority, and you see the Boyd Buchanan-Baylor-Vanderbilt track (or substitute your favorite private schools) benefitting the few who can afford it, while the many are left struggling to figure out how to make the best of the public schools. A little hint from this: a good education is not cheap. Education is not a manufacturing business, Fred Skillern, where you can skimp on the quality of raw materials and churn out mediocre product to make a profit. We're talking about future society.
That said, I refuse to just go along with the "more tax no matter what" line of thinking, even though I did support the Casavant-led increase voted in last month here in Hamilton County. For one thing, this creates inequity too. Communities that can afford to tax themselves more end up with better schools than those that can't? I think that's what was behind the BEP decision. And then there's the everpresent question of accountability. What are the schools doing with the (arguably inadequate) sums of money they do get? Are they spending them wisely to create that future society? I may disagree with the Rhonda Thurmans of the world on a lot, but there is some real discussion material when it comes to these things. Yes, educators need to be re-educated, mentored, and compensated in order for them to be the most effective. How much is too much? I don't know. But let's make sure we can find out where the money goes.
Sadly, even transparency won't solve the pervading problem, namely, that education simply doesn't occupy a position of stature in our public mindset. Educators whine and wheedle for unfair property or sales tax increases for no other reason than education's low level of prioritization statewide. Oh, and there is somtimes one more reason: that a much more fair assessment, such as the referendum wheel tax, gets voted down by the very parents of the children that are at stake. Yeesh. It makes me want to be a street preacher -- only, I'd be yelling for people to save their actual futures, not their mythical ones.
I hope Nashville votes down the sales tax increase, but I also hope that all Tennesseans can come to a more reasonable consensus on the intrinsic value -- value that is of critical importance -- of quality education. And, yes, "you get what you pay for."
Education | By joe lance | 12:01 PM