On the front page of the April 19, 2012 issue of the Morgan County Citizen there were two(1,2) apparently unrelated articles juxtaposed. They actually were as deeply related to each other as the eternal ying and yang of taxing and spending. The first pertained to a $4.8 million projected shortfall in the FY2012 budget for the Morgan County School System (MCSS). The second concerned a proposal to exempt seniors from paying ad valorem property taxes that fund the school system. The rationale for the exemption is that seniors have no children in the school system so why should they bear that cost burden. Why indeed? According to Madison city councilman Michael Naples, “the education of the local youth was the community’s responsibility” and that such support “has been a long standing practice in this country.” Hmmm… perhaps this “community responsibility” is part of this so-called “social contract” I keep hearing about but have yet to actually see anywhere?

Perhaps this “community responsibility” is part of this so-called “social contract” I keep hearing about but have yet to actually see anywhere?

“Community responsibility” is an oxymoronic notion predicated on the notion that we are born into this world burdened by an obligation to support our fellow man under threat of violence and/or loss of liberty to ourselves if we refuse that obligation. Communities or groups do not have rights or responsibilities; only individuals do. Furthermore, to justify this practice based on the longevity of its existence is tautological! That’s the same argument that was used to justify maintaining slavery: “well, we can’t do away with slavery sir, it’s a long standing tradition in these parts!”

Seniors should be exempted from paying for the education of the youth. As should businesses. As should the childless. Other people’s children are not my responsibility. My children are my responsibility. But, this begs the question. What of those that can’t afford to educate their children? Cost would not be an issue were schools not run as government mandated monopolies. Like healthcare, which has also been subsidized and manipulated by government mandates, the reasons for increased education costs are too numerous to delve into here, however one of the principle reasons is the notion that a smaller student:teacher ratio is the solution to the declining educational standing of the US. When I was in the public school system in the 70’s and 80s class sizes were always right at 30 students to 1 teacher… and yet somehow I and the rest of my generation all managed to somehow get an education and become productive citizens. Using the MCSS as an example (see this document and MCMS website), I determined the approximate student:teacher ratio is anywhere from 18:1 to 10:1 (depending on whether or not you count educational support staff). If the county were to simply move that ratio back to 30:1 (i.e. terminate 2/3 of the teaching staff), the county would save approximately $14 million/year. Since 1970 we have more than tripled (see this link and this link ) the cost of education per student in this country with absolutely no change in test results, so clearly the 10:1 ratio is not paying off.

Education does not need to be subsidized by the state any more than day care does. Using simple calculations based on raw labor value inputs, I compute that monthly education costs per student (including administrative support and capital costs) should be around $200/month (using an annual teacher salary of $67k/year and 30 students per teacher + overhead). If you subtract what most are already paying in property taxes and state income taxes this would basically be a wash or net gain for most. Absent property and income taxes imposed on businesses the “poor” could demand higher wages and lower rents. One of the primary reasons private schools currently cater to the wealthy is that only they can afford to subsidize the education of multiple other children AND their own. If all were released from this subsidization requirement you would see a range of new private schools at different price points (just as we see a range of car options from Kia to BMW).  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Let’s try something else, because clearly the last 40 years of government monopolized school systems have yielded no improvements.