March 18, 2021

Andrea Gabor: Voters Actually Like New Taxes For Schools

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Andrea Gabor occupies the Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY. She’s the author of After the Education Wars, which, like much of her writing about education, reminds us that it’s not just the education reformers insistence on transplanting business ideas into education, but their insistence on transplanting bad business ideas into education.

In her recent piece at Bloomberg, she reminds us that even as GOP initiatives are trying undercut taxpayer financing of public schools, the taxpayers themselves have been repeatedly voting in favor of financing public education.

So now is the time for public-school advocates to take a page from states and localities that mounted ballot initiatives that succeeded in November.

In Arizona, a referendum to increase income taxes by 3.5 percent on those who earn over $250,000 and use the proceeds to support schools and increase teacher salaries, passed by a wide margin. The measure, which is expected to raise close to $1 billion and relieve a chronic teacher shortage, grew from the 2018 teacher walkouts that swelled into national protests against stagnant teacher salaries and classroom funding. (Ironically, this effort to relieve the state’s teacher shortage could be outweighed by a spate of anti-teacher legislation passed earlier this month by Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature.)

Colorado voters repealed a provision in their state’s constitution that limited residential and non-residential property tax assessments; had the law not been repealed, it could have cost Colorado school districts close to $500 million.

And in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that will provide free comprehensive preschool for poor and many middle-income residents, as well as pay raises for preschool teachers, with a graduated income tax increase beginning with households earning over $200,000 annually. The tax hikes are expected to raise $132 million for county schools this year.

She also provides some historical perspective on how we got here (remember Proposition 13), and points to the lessons to be learned by the recent successes of public education supporters.

The popularity of direct democracy via ballot initiatives has grown in recent years as a decade of partisan standoffs has limited federal support for local and state government.

Indeed, the recent election outcomes offer some useful lessons about crafting successful ballot measures, including the importance of targeting popular local services like schools. Raising taxes based on income, as Arizona and Multnomah County, Oregon have done, also ensures more equitable cost sharing. While some cities, like San Antonio, have relied on sales taxes to increase education funding, regressive taxes are not ideal, especially at a time of increasing income inequality.

The Bloomberg paywall allows you a few free reads per month; this article is worth using one of those. You can find the complete article here.

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