GUEST COMMENTARY: Education cuts are not the solution

Monday, January 2, 2012 | 2:57 p.m. CST; updated 6:51 p.m. CST, Monday, January 2, 2012

Once upon a time, America professed to believe in a strong public education system. While we still talk about public education as the great equalizer that can offer a pathway out of poverty, the nation is falling far short in assuring millions of poor children, especially those of color, upward mobility.

As if children and families were not suffering enough during this economic downturn, too many states are choosing to balance budgets on the backs of children. They're shifting more costs away from government onto children and families who have fewer means to bear them. It's shameful.

Of the 46 states that publish data in a manner allowing historical comparisons, 37 are providing less funding per student to local school districts this school year than they provided last year, and 30 are providing less funding than they did four years ago. Seventeen states have cut per-student funding more than 10 percent from pre-recession levels, and four — South Carolina, Arizona, California and Hawaii — have reduced per-student funding for K-12 schools by more than 20 percent, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported.

Since the Great Recession began, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and other states have cut funding from early education programs to help close budget shortfalls. New Jersey cut funding for after-school programs. In a 2009 survey of California parents, 41 percent reported their child's school was cutting summer programs.

Cuts limiting student learning time are likely to intensify. An American Association of School Administrators survey reports 17 percent of respondents were considering shortening the school week to four days, and 40 percent were considering eliminating summer school programs. Summer learning loss is a major contributor to the achievement gap between poor and children and their more affluent peers. Districts across the country are beginning to cut extracurricular activities and to charge fees for supplies like biology safety goggles or printer ink.

These spending cuts come at a time when American education is in dire straits. The United States ranks 24th among 30 developed countries in overall educational achievement for 15-year-olds. A study of education systems in 60 countries ranks the United States 31st in math achievement and 23rd in science achievement for 15-year-olds. More than 60 percent of all fourth-, eighth- and 12th-grade public school students in every racial and income group are reading or doing math below grade level. Nearly 80 percent or more of African-American and Latino students in these grades are reading or doing math below grade level.

Children should be getting more quality instructional time, not less, to prepare to compete in the rapidly globalizing economy. Instead they're being held back and provided fewer school days and hours by stopgap solutions to budget problems they didn't cause. Too many adults seem to lack the moral clarity and common sense for making decisions about what to cut and what to invest in.

How can we expect our children to create a better America if we don't give them a good education?

Cuts being proposed in Washington and in the states and localities around the country may be saving a few dollars on a balance sheet today — but tomorrow they will cost us dearly as a nation. How shortsighted we are. Where are our priorities?

What are our values?

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of Children's Defense Fund. Distributed via

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Michael Williams January 3, 2012 | 10:52 a.m.

"...are choosing to balance budgets on the backs of children."

When I see words that use "on the backs of [whomever]", I shut down since I know I'm about to hear/read hyperbolic rhetoric.

For me, the article fails to convince that more money is the solution.

Why should more money be the solution *now* when it hasn't been the solution for the last 5 decades? Tell me what has changed?

Change first. Then the money will come.

Not vice versa.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 3, 2012 | 11:35 a.m.

("...More attention to the skills and knowledge students need to transition effectively from school to work and college...

The core of the integration concept is to combine the best curricular and pedagogical practices of academic and vocational education into a single, integrated program that is available to all high school students."Curricular and pedagogical reforms:
Schools attempted to reform curricula through enhanced course content (academic and vocational knowledge and skills), improved course alignment and interdisciplinary content connections, and emphasis on workplace-related skills and attitudes. The schools also attempted to implement pedagogical reforms that moved teachers away from didactic techniques, such as lecturing, and toward more facilitative techniques, such as coaching, modeling, and project-based learning.

As a major reform, integration requires a great deal of capital building in both the development of appropriate curricular materials and the training of teachers.

Teachers need time, resources, and guidance to develop materials to be used in an integrated curriculum. Some commercially produced curricular materials are available (e.g., "applied academic" materials), but at schools that opted to acquire them, teachers discovered that extensive reworking and supplementation were needed to adapt them to local needs.

Teachers also need to be trained in the use of teaching techniques that support activity-based learning, including hands-on problem-solving, cooperative or team-based projects, lessons requiring multiple forms of expression, and project work that draws on knowledge and skills from several domains. The eight schools studied, for example, used various activities to improve student workplace skills, including internships, senior projects, and development of career plans. Attempts at pedagogical change were impeded by lack of staff development, planning time, and resources.")
source & more:
Integrating Academic and Vocational Education: Lessons from Early Innovators

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 3, 2012 | 12:03 p.m.

CPS parents, if you just paid property taxes, look at the amount that goes to the school district. Then multiply your number of children by the ~$9,300 average that CPS spends annually per student. The difference between those two figures is what you need to start ponying up. Before you complain that that's not fair, remember that you also get federal tax breaks for each child and that many, many other property owners are already -- and would still be -- helping fund your child's/children's education.

If you don't owe property taxes, you're an even bigger reason for any shortfall because there's no way that your state and federal income taxes, and your local sales taxes, contribute enough to the CPS budget to cover the cost of educating your child(ren).

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 3, 2012 | 12:23 p.m.

("Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country.")

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 3, 2012 | 1:21 p.m.

Fortunately -- or maybe not -- Columbia is in the position of being able to balance its local education budget on the backs of large, well-connected, powerful, and well-healed builders and developers.

If only our school board had the courage to do so!

They are the same builders and developers who sell over-priced land no one else wants to the city and school district; build over-priced new headquarters for office-hungry administrative types; and get the school district -- that is, us -- you and me -- to fork over millions and millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements so that they can build subdivisions and shopping malls next to new schools.

All, of course, while those same big developers pay a pittance in property taxes on their development land.

All, of course, while our property taxes continue to soar.

Meanwhile, "the children" are left with classroom trailers; un-plowed streets that keep them home from school while City Hall claims poverty; "heat days" that keep them home from school because so many schools lack air conditioning; and existing but older buildings in terrible overall shape.

Of course, improving and maintaining existing stuff doesn't enrich -- you guessed it -- BIG DEVELOPERS. Only exorbitantly-priced new buildings do that.

Such a deal! Too bad it's been putting the screws to you and me for years, only recently being recognized for the scandal it represents.


(Report Comment)
frank christian January 3, 2012 | 2:52 p.m.

Ms Edleman and her Children's Defense Fund write of concern for standings of our student children's education relative to other countries but only decry the lack of spending as a reason. Simplistic? Somewhat since our spending has long been known as near tops in the world.

CATO for last 40 yrs shows, "Despite the dramatic increase in spending, there has been no notable change in student outcomes. Using data provided by Andrew Coulson, an education policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, Figure 2 shows National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in reading, math, and science, along with per pupil spending. *The only trend line with a plus is the amount of spending."*
She also gives us "Center on Budget and Policy Priorities" as someone we can count on. Wikipedia gives us on CBPP,

"The Center is also producing analyses showing that climate-change legislation can generate enough revenue not only to protect low-income families, but also to address other needs related to the fight against global warming without increasing the deficit."

The last thing these people want is a balanced budget. anywhere.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 3, 2012 | 2:52 p.m.

MikeM: I know one of your concerns is the low taxes paid by some on their ag land that happens to be near Columbia.

How do you handle the following situation: You, a rather wealthy developer, own 640 acres of pasture land near Columbia. I (a not-wealthy retiree living off SS) own 640 acres of pasture next door to your 640 acres. For all intents, the parcels are identical.

Should there be a difference in property taxes that you and I pay?

What if a development moves in next to us both? That certainly increases the potential value of both our parcels, and I can see where an increased valuation is arguable based upon best-use. But, in this situation, you (being wealthy) can afford the increase....but I can't. My property gets involuntarily sold because I can not afford the increased taxes. You get to keep your land, but I don't.

Comments? Just trying to see where you're coming from.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 4, 2012 | 10:32 a.m.

Michael Williams:

The example situations you're laying out here don't have much relevance to anything I've written or researched, so it would be hard for me to answer your questions.

In no cases or case law I've studied have any developers been using their land as pasture or farm. Nor have I looked into any cases where a big development went next door to a working farm.

The land I'm talking about is 18 partly developed acres in Thornbrook with streets, sidewalks, and stubbed in utilities that stopped being farmland 20 years ago.

And a few acres near the Broadway/Fairview Wal-Mart where Stan Kroenke is dumping construction debris from his Stadium development. I'd be surprised if this land was ever farmed. It's too rocky.

And 1.5 acres next to Houlihan's and Culver's, in the Broadway Shoppes without so much as a blade of grass growing on it.

And Jeff Smith's duplex Assessor Schauwecker said was worth only $739.

And so on. The list is almost endless.

The only thing close to what you're describing that I've researched is Kroenke's 133 acres on Nifong, but that's not pasture land. It's just a big, unused vacant lot stubbed in for utilities, and has been for over a decade. Kroenke paid $1.2 million for it back in 1999 with the stated intention, in the deed, to develop it. Today, the Boone County Assessor says it's worth just a hair over $40,000, for a total yearly tax bill of roughly $280.00

Finally, the best way to see where I'm coming from on this issue is to read the volumes of material I've written about it over the past four years.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 4, 2012 | 10:58 a.m.

MikeM: I didn't convey my question correctly.

I want to know what you think should happen tax-wise to two equal and otherwise unused farm/forestland parcels, one owned by a rich guy and the other by a poor guy, who's best-use potential has increased over the years due to city expansion.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 4, 2012 | 12:19 p.m.

It doesn't matter what I think should happen. It matters what the law -- both case law and statutory law -- demands.

For certain well-connected campaign donors, Boone County routinely breaks that law, which is crystal clear.

If the land is not being ACTIVELY farmed, it is to be taxed at the rate of its highest and best use, which in the case you're describing sounds like commercial, regardless whether a rich man or poor man owns it.

From the most "on point" Missouri State Tax Commission case, Northland Village v. Davis, 2004:

"Section 137.016.1, RSMo 2000. As illustrated in the definitions, the classification turns on the actual use put to the property. If there is no active use being made of the property, the classification turns on the immediate most suitable economic use that could be made of the property after consideration of certain factors set forth at Section 137.016.5, RSMo 2000."

In this case, the Missouri State Tax Commission found as follows:

"The essential element in this case for reclassification was to establish the agricultural use of the subject lots.

"Although Complainant's witness testified about a haying operation and some past timber cutting, there was no substantiating evidence.

"No documentation to establish either the person or persons who had cut hay or timber was presented.

"No documentation was presented to establish the frequency of either hay or timber cutting.

"No documentation was presented to establish the most recent hay and timber cutting activities.

"The entirety of the claim of agricultural use was based upon hearsay testimony.

"The Commission is not persuaded based upon this testimony...the Decision of the Hearing Officer should be reversed. Accordingly, the Decision is set aside.

"The subject properties are to be assessed for tax years 2003 and 2004 as residential properties...."

SO ORDERED October 22, 2004.

Sam D. Leake, Chairman
Bruce E. Davis, Commissioner
Jennifer Tidwell, Commissioner

Of course, I've covered this many times, so let me again emphasize: Before engaging someone in a hypothetical debate about what they've written, it's a good idea to read what they've written first.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 4, 2012 | 1:36 p.m.

MikeM: I'm not inclined to read your volumes; I figure if an opinion can't be explained in a few short sentences/paragraphs, then it can't be explained.

Plus, I'm not even debating. I'm simply asking your opinion on a narrow topic.

I have concerns for owners of property (the property being of any shape, variety, form, or use) who find themselves faced with rapidly increasing taxes simply because a community edges closer over time. If such an owner has no inclination whatsoever to change the use of their land, I see no reason that land should be placed into a higher tax category for reasons not caused by the owner. Such a practice can easily *force* such an owner to sell if they cannot meet the tax bill. I consider that a wrong and immoral act.

Of course, if said owner wishes to change the use of their property via self-development or sale, then my question no longer applies and I agree with an "actual or intended-use" taxation rate...but not a "best use" taxation rate.

You are more concerned about the Kroenke's and Smith's who, in your opinion, are not paying their fair share. That's fine. But, I have made no such mention of them. You've explored property taxes and I thought you might want to weigh in on my narrower question. After two tries, you haven't.

That's ok. Perhaps someone else "in the know" will be inclined to discuss this.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 4, 2012 | 3:41 p.m.

I empathize with your concerns, but they really have nothing to do with the law of Missouri property taxation, which is the only thing I -- or anyone else for that matter -- can address with any surety.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 4, 2012 | 4:01 p.m.

MikeM: Ok. Never mind.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2012 | 4:19 p.m.

To add a data point in case any enterprising Missourian reporter would like to dig into this issue, my brother and I own 64ish acres of mostly pasture in rural Boone County. Your stereotypical old family farm with a small house and two barns that are well over 50 years old. Why am I paying double the taxes on half the property when compared to the Kroenke plot that Mike Martin mentioned?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 4, 2012 | 4:28 p.m.

JohnS: You need to tear down the house and barns.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2012 | 4:48 p.m.

Shoot, we tore down the old farmhouse that my grandpa was born in since it had gotten to the point where you had to know which rooms up in the attic were safe to walk into and which weren't. At least the (small) addition built in the 80s is still in decent shape.

I would be surprised if two old barns and a small building should add that much to the tax bill. After selling off a few acres of the farm several years back, I've got a fairly decent idea of the land value and don't think the structure value is remotely comparable to cause the tax bill to be doubled when the acreage is half of Mike's data point.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 4, 2012 | 4:58 p.m.

John: I don't know about Boone County, but when I put up a 20x20' metal shed on my farm in another county my taxes went up significantly. I was afraid to tell them about my portable deer stand Taj Mahal.

A trip to the assessor's office might be in order for you to discern what's causing what.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 4, 2012 | 5:06 p.m.

The enterprising reporter also could look at whether Boone County is now using satellite photos to identify buildings that landowners have recently built but haven't reported. Some governments do this. For example, Greece's federal government used satellite photos to identify 17,000 residential swimming pools when homeowners had reported only about 300.

(Report Comment)

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