Judges Shift Education Funding from Towns Towards States

Published September 13, 2016

A judge has ordered Connecticut to come up with a completely new education financing system that erases distinctions between local school districts. He’s not the only one, as Choice Media’s Bob Bowdon shows in a recent run-down of the latest school-finance cases. Bowdon writes:

One consistent element is that rather than admitting their actions are fundamentally activist, the judges generally explain that they’re obligated to take action because of century-old state constitutional phraseology, the same constitutions that somehow never compelled such action from their myriad of predecessors.

Tax-and-spend types, usually led by teachers unions who have an obvious personal interest in increasing taxpayer spending on schools, have used lawsuits as a coercion tactic for decades. Their actions are fundamentally at odds with the idea of letting local jurisdictions handle their own property and other tax systems, which in turn reduces people’s ability to vote with their feet by moving into towns that manage local affairs well and out of towns that manage such affairs poorly. It also reduces the rewards and consequences for socially beneficial and socially detrimental behavior, respectively.

There’s a lot of talk about “disparities” among neighborhoods in these kinds of lawsuits, but very little about what leads to such disparities. Neighborhoods with low tax bases tend to be neighborhoods with high crime, high rates of public nuisance events (loud music playing at night, neighbors who fight loudly with each other, people walking through others’ landscaping, etc.), an overactive and meddlesome local government, and so forth.

People naturally move away from such places when they can, and into neighborhoods where people mow the lawn when you’re sick, volunteer to coach Little League, don’t play loud music late at night, and so forth. Keeping up community standards like this leads not just to social rewards but economic rewards, as indicated by home values. “Equity” lawsuits steal these rewards and attempt to redistribute them (after greasing the palms of as many bureaucrats as possible along the way) so that people who behave well do not reap the rewards of their self-control and charity, and people who behave badly do not suffer the consequences of their self-centered and undisciplined choices. This is fundamentally unjust.

Besides its injustice, school-finance litigation is mostly a waste of time. It largely ties up court resources on seemingly endless battles that ultimately benefit children very little and divert time and attention that could be better spent. Don’t tell that to the lawyers–they won’t listen.

SOURCES: Brookings Institution, Choice Media, Hartford Courant


School Choice Roundup

  • 2016: Presidential candidate Donald Trump proposes sending $20 billion in federal dollars as block grants to states for school-choice programs and cutting the U.S. Department of Education. Hillary Clinton’s education positions are less clear-cut, although they include a proposal for a new federal preschool entitlement and increased federal college subsidies.
  • TROUBLED STUDENTS: As more children act out in school, school districts look for ways to keep managing them while not hurting the well-behaved children, and more are turning to alternative schools run by private companies.

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

  • ARIZONA: Arizona’s anti-Common Core state superintendent will hold public town halls about Common Core this fall.

Education Today

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