Every public institution maintains its existence through continuous funding. American public schools have long been seen as worth supporting, using a portion of the income of the citizens who benefit from them. While the system of financial support for public schools has generally been successful over the years, recently this system has come under duress. What are the issues involved in funding American public schools and what is the significance of these problems?
While the funding sources for public schools are complex, funding primarily comes from state government with property tax revenue being a key component thereof. A property tax is an assessment made by a city on the estimated value of a particular property parcel. The problem with using such estimates of property value is that they can vary significantly over time. While the demands for funding for schools continually increase, the amount of revenue generated from property tax assessments does not.
During economic downturns, the value of properties in a particular area will often decrease and thus the funds generated to support the schools in that area will also drop. While this should be offset by increased revenue during economic improvements, there are two factors that work against that. Spending for schools, like most government spending, is year to year. Money is not held back against future needs, but spent as it comes in. In addition, there is great public pressure to cap property taxes on the upside, but not on the downside. As a result, funding will tend to be adequate at best on the positive side and severely fall short during economic downturns.
Other types of funding sources are under investigation to avoid the problems associated with property tax revenues. Both income tax revenue and sales tax revenue are potential avenues through which American public schools could potentially be funded. Income taxes are collected by both federal and state governments and are a percentage of that income earned that is considered eligible to be taxed. Income taxes are progressive which means that higher income earners are taxed at a higher rate than their lower income counterparts.
While income tax revenue does fluctuate, it does so at a less severe rate than does income generated by property tax revenue. In addition, as the people in a particular area strive to improve their employment status, that particular area is rewarded with more revenue for the schools involved. Sales taxes are a percentage of sales receipts and are collected for state governments by retailers doing business within their jurisdiction. Sales taxes tend to be more consistent than either income tax or property tax since individuals needs to buy certain basics in order to live. Any of these tax revenue sources suffer from decreasing during times of economic downturn at just those times when those revenues are most needed.
Another potential source of revenue for American public schools is the federal government. Currently the percentage of the overall public school budget that is contributed by the federal government is small. The money that is contributed by the federal government tends to come with significant restrictions on its use. The tradition of public schools in America is one of local autonomy.
Each local area, within certain limits, is free to make the decisions that the local community supports in order to educate its children appropriately. Already revenues that are passed through state government systems have a layer of requirements that limit the autonomy of local school districts to act as they see fit. The addition of another layer of requirements at the federal level would even further tie the hands of local administrators. While federal money is needed, each local school district would need to determine if the restrictions that come along with those funds are worth working through. Any additional layers of paperwork that would result would take away from the central role of teaching children and would need to be taken into consideration when consideration is made as to whether or not to accept a source of federal funding.
American public schools can draw from their private counterparts in seeking more creative forms of revenue. Private companies are often willing to support local schools in return for access to the student population. Such agreements involve a balancing of the need for funds to run the school and educate students using the most advanced technology against the exposure of students to advertising for products that may or may not be to their advantage. School administrators have a duty to guard and protect their students and this duty must be taken seriously, but at the same time students should have the opportunity to learn in the best possible environment and agreements with private companies are often a reasonable manner in which to accomplish this goal.
Local communities have a built-in connection with the schools around them. School administrators can reach out to these individuals and businesses to creatively partner to raise revenue for the school. Such activities have the dual purpose of not only making more money available to help educate students but also creating a close connection between the schools and the community. The more that schools can portray themselves as a key part of a community, the more likely that those who live and work near them will be encouraged to support their efforts.
American public schools face a serious challenge to ensure that revenue is available to support their endeavors. These schools are in competition with private schools and other educational facilities that often have better access to sources of funding. Many of the easily available resources used to fund American public schools have a tendency to fluctuate and are at their lowest when these revenues are most needed. School administrators are challenged to consider creative ways to involve individuals and businesses in strategic partnerships to access sufficient revenue in order to provide the best possible learning environment for their students.
Communities must recognize that the success of the schools within their borders is often directly connected to their willingness to partner with them and help with funding shortfalls that will inevitably come. Consideration must be given as to whether or not certain funding sources, such as the federal government, are worth the restriction that come with them.
The solution to the funding challenges of American public schools is complex and those who run these schools will need to continually find creative ways to generate the necessary funding required to make their schools positive learning environments for all who attend them.