Houston may find it should have listened to the lessons of tax increases past. In 2008 Iowa raised its sales tax from five percent to six percent. The change was marketed as an education tax, with the extra penny going to the schools for books and materials. The actual result: Valley High School proposed and passed plans to build a new football stadium. This was neither the first nor the last time American taxpayers were duped, but Colorado’s recent two to one vote against Amendment 66 shows taxpayers are slowly learning. For the most part, though, it seems taxpayers still go moony over any noble proposal to increase funding to public schools.
In Houston, HISD recently instituted a three cent property tax increase for “maintenance and operations” of schools. It will be interesting to see how this increase is actually used. Public schools around the country do not have the best track record of honesty and transparency in their accounting; digging into any school district’s budget is similar to deciphering tax code and the benefits statement from your health insurance company. Similarly, misappropriation of increased funds – at least in comparison to how tax increases are advertised – is as common as a cold in a daycare. I, for one, am all for increasing funding of public schools, but only with the provisions that
- The tax specifically targeted and necessary
- Current spending behavior is financially sound
- The tax contributes to educational materials, and I’m not talking about iPads and computers. I mean textbooks and libraries.
While it’s nice that Houston schools want to make sure roofs don’t leak and hallways don’t remind students of The Shining, the question on everyone’s mind should be, will they use the extra money judiciously the way it was promised, or will we just get a new football stadium and keep our disintegrating textbooks and wayward air conditioning?