Opinion: Education taxes mean investment in one’s community
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Like many people, I hate taxes. However, I do know they are necessary to serve the “common good.” In general economic terms, a “public good” is a product or service that serves the good of the public in a way where it is theoretically difficult or impossible to exclude members of the public. Taxation pays for these public goods, which shares the cost among the most people to achieve the lowest cost per person.
Despite my hatred of taxes, I support those that provide for three key things: national defense, roads, and public education. Of these three things, one has a substantial positive impact on local communities and the folks directly paying the taxes: public education. Stay with me on this one.
A portion of property taxes, plus specific ownership taxes (car tags) provide the “local” share of public education funding in Colorado. Roughly 54 percent of local residential and commercial real estate taxes are dedicated to funding local public schools. The other 46 percent of those taxes funds other services. For Grand Junction, this yields around $50 million a year for its public schools.
To ensure a fair and equitable public education for all communities, the state of Colorado sets a minimum amount of investment per student for all districts. Confirmed by a Supreme Court decision, “equalization” prevents children in different communities from receiving a different level of education. This year, that amount was around $7,000 per student. For context, this is less than half of what Wyoming invests in their students, and it locates Colorado in the bottom tier of states nationwide.
$7,000 x 22,000 students = $154,000,000. This is the minimum amount necessary to educate students in Grand Junction. Hmm. Our local taxes only raise $50 million. Who pays the rest? The state contributes the other $104 million from collected sales and income taxes. The state funds are appropriated and paid to districts according to the state’s School Finance Act of 1994. So, Mesa County sees $154 million invested locally for education, with only $50 million coming from local real estate taxes.
Though difficult to calculate with precision, the most recent estimate of state income tax collectively paid by Mesa County residents was around $95 million.
As a community, our tax investment is returned to us in K-12 education funding. What is collected from the community goes back into making the community better. But, how?
District 51 spends about 85 percent of our budget on salaries and benefits for school district staff. How do you spend your income? You spend on homes, cars, appliances, food, clothing, and entertainment. The same thing is true for our staff. That means roughly $131 million flows from staff back into the local market and to local business owners. The other 15 percent, or about $23 million, goes to purchases and services, also mostly locally sourced. Taxes to support education help build and support communities.
What is the first question a major enterprise asks when considering a community for relocation? “How are the schools?” Their employees want great schools for their children, and the business wants a great school system to create the next wave of adult employees. Big business sees the connection between great schools and their successful future. Great schools are essential to attracting new industry, which drives economic growth for the entire community.
What is the first question home-buyers ask real estate agents? Home-buyers also want great schools for their children. And, they know great schools are the best protection against declining real estate values. When a school declines in quality, buyers choose other neighborhoods. Such preference drives the value of those homes down. When schools improve and thrive, those neighborhoods are more desired- and values increase. Great schools are essential to attracting home-buyers, which protect and increase home values.
Knowing this doesn’t make me like taxes any better. But, it does keep me from thinking that all taxes are the same. I like a strong national defense, good roads, and strong schools. And, I support taxes where the taxpayer sees the benefit of their investment. Education taxes fund staff that spend their pay back into the community. The investment attracts industry to foster economic growth. The investment protects property values against decline. Most remarkably, these benefits are by-products of the primary purpose of education: imparting knowledge and skills to the community’s children so they succeed as adults.
Free Press columnist Dan Dougherty is director of communications for School District 51: Mesa County Valley Schools. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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