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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 11, 2010 5 years ago

Our view: The never-ending debate

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by: Observer Staff

Many supporters of public education find it heretical for anyone not to support extending the one-mill school property tax in Sarasota County.

We get all the arguments: More money for our schools allows us to hire better qualified teachers and offer more and better special programs that (we hope) will result in higher performing students — all of which inures to making our community a better place to live.

Unfortunately, as Rod Thomson explains, no one can make a definitive case that more money automatically equals better results or that less money equals lower results.

The reason it’s difficult to support taxes for Florida schools in general is that no one wants to admit Florida’s public-school structure will never result in anything much different than the results we’ve seen — in spite of how hard teachers work or how good they are.

The reason for this starts with the State. It decides each local district’s property-tax rate to fund schools equally per student. And it dictates curricula and how money must be spent locally.

Special-interests, in turn, influence the State to require special programs, mandates and protections. This leads to a gazillion competing demands — programs for autism, pregnant teens, remediation, gifted students, the arts, science, sports, teacher tenure and on and on. Everyone expects his child to receive the same maximum, excellent resources as the next child.

But this can and will never happen. It’s impossible to provide every child with an equal education.

Meanwhile, parents and taxpayers — the very people funding the education apparatus — have no control or can impose no accountability over how their school property-tax dollars are spent. They get what the State delivers. And if they complain to the local school district, the district says, “Sorry, the State dictates what we can do.” You must get the laws changed. Good luck.

For 30 years in Florida, there has been endless discussion of the sad state of public education and how we must reform it. Little has changed.

The place to start is to admit the truth: As long as the State allocates the money, we’ll be disappointed.

Imagine the innovation and improvements if you give taxpayers the freedom to control where their education dollars go. Imagine an education marketplace unleashed to compete.

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