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Property Taxes and Schools

By Jack Gladson


Photo by Pixabay

Education is often hailed as the great equalizer, but our current methods of funding school districts are far from equal. This is largely due to school districts’ over reliance on local property taxes to provide funding for students. Throughout the United States, almost 80 percent of local government spending on public education is funded by property taxes.


The fundamental flaw of funding schools through property taxes lies in its dependence on local property values. Wealthy neighborhoods with high property values naturally generate more tax revenue, while economically disadvantaged areas struggle to meet the financial needs of their schools. So, schools in impoverished districts face severe resource constraints, outdated facilities, and an inability to fully tend to each student's needs. Opportunities to pursue additional guidance, extracurricular activities, and advanced courses are scarce. Not only does this diminish student understanding and learning, but it can also substantially impact their futures, as students become less prepared to enter the workforce or apply to colleges.


This becomes incredibly problematic when we consider America’s history of racial and socioeconomic discrimination in regard to housing. Even today, many neighborhoods are still shaped by the lasting effects of racial segregation and white flight. The Shanker Institute finds that across metropolitan areas including Baltimore, the Bay Area, Birmingham, Hartford, Kansas City, San Antonio, and the Twin Cities, “90 percent of majority-Black/Hispanic districts spend below estimated adequate levels, compared with 12 percent of majority-white districts. And this matters for student outcomes: 85 percent of majority-Black/Hispanic districts are both inadequately funded and score below the U.S. average on math and reading tests, compared with 6 percent of majority-white districts.”


This reliance on property taxes to fund schools exacerbates existing economic disparities and decreases the effectiveness of schooling to provide opportunities for upward mobility. Historically marginalized communities that have been largely excluded from accessing wealth often become trapped in underfunded school districts. It is imperative that lawmakers and district officials come to terms with these issues and explore alternate policy solutions.


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