Thursday, February 15, 2007

Public Money. Public Schools. Period!

Tax Credits For Kids In Private Schools Do Not Serve Public Good

A tax credit to parents who send their children to private and parochial schools has been proposed by Governor Eliot Spitzer as part of the Executive Budget. That would be $1,000 per child, with income limitations.

Call it a tax credit or an outright voucher, what it amounts to is public tax money being siphoned away from our public schools to pay for a private education.

I have a friend who lives in Oceanside. While he holds a valid driver's license (or so he told me, the last time he borrowed my car), he seldom drives, and never takes public transportation, opting instead to dole out untold sums to private car services to transport him hither and thither.

Someone else I am acquainted with belongs to a very posh private country club, one with beach rights during the summer. [I rarely get invited, and, after this blogpost, I surely won't.] This fella grumbles, constantly, that he not only pays thousands of dollars every year to maintain his private country club membership -- not to mention what he has to tip the cabana boy -- but he has to pay property taxes for the care, maintenance and operation of public parks which, by choice, he does not frequent.

How about a tax credit for my buddy in Oceanside who rarely uses the public roadways and never steps foot on a public bus? After all, why should he subsidize mass transit through property taxes when he does not benefit from it?

As it stands, the poor fella has to not only pay for us to use the bridges and buses, but for his ride in that private town car as well.

And that guy sipping the pina coladas on the sand adjoining that private beach club -- why should he pay taxes for state, county and town parks that he sees no benefit from, while having to dip into his own pocket yet again for those egregious private country club dues? Maybe he should get a tax credit, too.

I've never been to the Statue of Liberty, or out west to our National Parks. I prefer to visit private museums and closed-to-the-public sanctuaries, to which I donate readily. I should get a tax credit for that, don't you think?

Of course, education is different than parks, museums and public transportation.

We don't have to frolic in the parks or take a trip on Long Island Bus, after all, but every child must have an education.

And our State Constitution provides -- mandates (if not funds) -- that our children be afforded "free common schools," so why shouldn't parents (who pay taxes for public schools they don't use -- as if text books, computers, nurses, pyschologists, and bus transport constitute "non-use") get a tax break when they send their kids to private school?

Well, they shouldn't, and much for the same reasons that my buddy who prefers bicycles to buses shouldn't get a tax credit to pay for limosine service, and the guy who chooses the beach club over Eisenhower Park shouldn't get cash back from the State to help defray the astronomical cost of membership in his private haven.

In a society, we all share common obligations. We pay to run the trains and buses, even if we've never fed a fare box. We are taxed to maintain roads, bridges and tunnels -- not to mention public transit systems hundreds of miles away from where we live -- even though we may not drive, take the train, or cross that bridge in Rochester. And we are taxed, handsomely, to maintain our public parks, even when they are not maintained, and where we choose not to enjoy their benefits.

So, too, it is with public education. Perhaps, in providing for those schools, the reasons for our public support -- financial and otherwise -- are even more compelling.

You see, the very fabric of our society is woven through the education of generation next; our very future in the tiny hands of those little children we place on the school bus every morning. And it is public education that has, and, if we are going to prosper as a nation, must, going forward, serve as the firm foundation for the pillars of society that rise from ideas and ideals nurtured by well-nourished minds.

To take away funding from our public schools by tax credit, voucher, or other device, is to diminish the capacity of our children to build that better world we envision. In very real terms, it diminishes every one of us.

The State -- and the taxpayers -- do provide a system of common schools to which every child, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, or even legality of residence, is invited to learn, to grow, to develop into a productive member of our community, and our society.

We call these common schools, "public schools."

"Hey, but I choose to send my child to private school, where I pay $15,000 or more a year in tuition on top of the school property tax. Its not fair!"

You are correct. Its not fair.

Its not fair that my friend has to pay taxes for a fleet of buses he never uses, and has to dig deeper into his own pocket to hire a private car service.

Its not fair that the luxury of a private country club, with its high price tag for admission, isn't subsidized by the State, especially when that pal of mine couldn't find a public park if you gave him a map.

And it is surely not fair to parents who choose -- the key word, "choose" -- to send their children to private and parochial schools to have to pay ten, twenty, and, in some cases, thirty thousand dollars a year in addition to the school property tax.

Then again, that's their choice. Fairness, equity, and your out of pocket cost going out the window.

Bottom line: Its not fair to the taxpayer to take public money -- millions of dollars of it -- from coffers that could help feed our public schools, to, in effect, subsidize private (let alone parochial) schools.

Taxes are outrageous! Agreed. We all need property tax relief, but not on the backs of our public school children.

Can't afford the Lincoln Town car to take you to the mall? Hop on a public bus.

Complain about the price of membership at your private country club (and the food hasn't been too good of late, either)? Have a picnic at a public park.

The Diocese, the Yeshiva, or some Charter school robbing you blind in the name of educating your children? There's a place for your kids -- close to home and more than capable of teaching and nurturing, with your support and fully funded programs -- in our public schools.

We all pay, as we should in a society -- in the community of human kind -- for our public institutions, be they parks, buses, or schools. We pay whether we feel that we personally benefit or not, realizing that as a people, as a nation, we all benefit when public money is used to finance the public good.

The school choice folks (funny how so many of them, it seems, are not "Pro-Choice" on other issues) have every right to send their children to private and parochial schools. Maybe they shouldn't. Perhaps it would benefit every one of us if we mandated a public education for every child.

Having made that choice, however, private over public, they should have no choice but to pay for it out of their own pockets.

Its not an entitlement, people. A public education is. A private/parochial education is not.

No tax credits. No vouchers. No taking from the public pot to pay for a private education at St. Peters, St. Pauls, or the Yeshiva of your choice.

Public Money. Public Schools. Period!

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