April 3, 2007

A Tax Shift is not a Tax Cut

Carroll Andrew Morse

Has Lawrence E. Purtill, president of the National Education Association’s Rhode Island chapter, figured out a magical way to increase government spending without increasing taxes? The text of his letter to the editor in Monday’s Projo certainly implies that he has...

If The Journal wants to take bold action [on improving educaton], it should join with us in changing Rhode Island’s formula for state aid to education in an effort to increase overall aid while lessening the burden on the local property taxpayer.
But if the burden on taxpayers will be lessened, then where will the money for additional state aid be found? Mr. Purtill and his organization could, I suppose, be endorsing huge increases in business taxes to replace and supplement lower property taxes. Or Mr. Purtill could be using sloppy rhetoric, saying that he supports reducing the burden on property taxpayers, when he really means that he supports reducing the property tax burden on property taxpayers -- while jacking up their income tax burden to make up the difference!

By the middle of his letter, however, Mr. Purtill has found his inner fiscal conservative, and criticizes the recently approved Utah statewide voucher plan for increasing state spending on education…

In fact, if the Utah plan were implemented in Rhode Island, education costs would rise, not fall.
So Mr. Purtill is opposed to increases in education spending that give more power to parents but favors higher spending that increase the monies going directly to bureaucracies. How do you read this and not conclude that maintaining strong bureaucratic control of education is a higher priority to Mr. Purtill than increasing resources to education? (It should also be noted here that a Utah-style voucher plan doesn’t necessarily increase education spending, but that a total aid increase was built into the Utah system as part of a political compromise to get it through the state legislature).

Finally, in maybe one hopeful section of his letter, Mr. Purtill says…

Rhode Island’s suburban and rural schools have performed and continue to perform as well as if not better than their peers throughout the Northeast and the country.
Does this mean we can count on Mr. Purtill to oppose any strong regionalization scheme intended to take educational decision making away from communities that have demonstrated the ability to run good school systems and move an increased number of students into systems controlled by dysfunctional urban bureaucracies?

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“It should also be noted here that a Utah-style voucher plan doesn’t necessarily increase education spending, but that a total aid increase was built into the Utah system as part of a political compromise to get it through the state legislature”

It is my understanding that Utah would pay for the child to go to another school, yet continue to pay the old school some of the money (approx $5000 per student is the number I have heard). So if the state pays for the education at the new school, and continues to pay the old school for NOT teaching the student, then I suppose the NEA is correct. It would increase costs.

But just because they are correct, doesn’t make it right. It’s simply a bribe or payoff to the NEA.

Posted by: WJF at April 3, 2007 10:32 AM

The teachers unions HAVE to oppose high quality education, for that is the only way to protect the substantial portion of their existing membership that is mediocre. High quality education would require performance and accountability – which are an anathema to the union model of employees / members being fungible dues units, distinguishable only by seniority.

Like any monopolist, the teachers unions want to restrict – and eliminate if possible – competition.

That a teacher union official expresses concern about property taxes is laughable on its face, as we all know how they “express” their concern once behind closed doors “negotiating” contracts with local school committees.

This “concern” has the same level of credibility as that of Democrat officeholders, who claim to be concerned about “the children” while taking campaign support from the teachers unions in return for providing political protection.

Teachers unions are inherently the enemy of children, parents and taxpayers … the very embodiment of a rent-seeking special interest whose impact is deleterious upon the community at large.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at April 3, 2007 11:55 AM

Is there anybody that even listens to what these union jerks say? Listening to them talk about what is good for schools is like listening to the fox tell what kind of security is good for the henhouse.
Talking to these union dopes is like dealing with the Palestinians. They shouldn't be listened to, they shd be wacked upside the head.

Posted by: Rondo at April 3, 2007 2:57 PM

Give Purtill credit. He realizes that-

1. Most local money goes towards education, mainly in the form of teacher salaries and benefits.

2. RI's educational ratings are below the national average despite the RI taxpayer paying teacher salaries that are well above the national average.

3. In bad financial times like this, it is inevitable that people begin to ask what they're getting for their money. On the education front, the answer in RI is not much.

So Purtill comes out with a plan to lessen the property tax burden and tries take the negative focus away from the teacher's union.

Here's my view. I don't think that teachers are ruining the RI educational system. I also don't think they're helping the RI educational system. In fact, I don't think teachers are a much of a factor either positively or negatively as we'd like to believe.

Most of the impact on a child's education comes from parental involvement. Taxpayers can pay teachers more money or pay teachers less money and the quality of education isn't going to change that much.

So long as teachers are given enough money to live a middle-class lifestyle, there will be always be enough quality teachers. As with any other occupation, when there are waiting lists in school departments for teachers trying to get jobs, the law of supply and demand tells me that RI taxpayers may be a little too generous.

Annual teacher salaries could probably be cut by $5,000 across the board tomorrow and I bet the only effect would be some early retirements that would be immediately be filled by younger teachers.

I doubt that there would be any measurable reduction in the quality of education provided to the student.

Posted by: Anthony at April 3, 2007 4:10 PM

Purtill is kidding the parents and taxpayers of RI when he asserts that our suburban and rural schools are doing well. Compared to what? RI's urban schools? Certainly. But not compared to their peers in other states -- say #1 ranked Massachusetts -- when you compare test scores produced by districts with demographically similar populations. This is certainly true of Barrington, EG, Portsmouth and NK -- compared to affluent suburbs in Massachusetts, Connecticut and other places, public schools in these towns underperform in terms of their average test scores. Just ask anybody who has been asked to move their family -- with school aged children -- from one of these other states to RI and send them to our public schools while paying our sky high taxes. Or, better yet, ask the few private sector growth companies left in RI how hard it is to get prospective employees to move here. Not that Larry Purtill would care. Over the years, he has made his attitude toward the private sector, and indeed towards capitalism in general, quite clear...

Posted by: John at April 3, 2007 9:32 PM

OK, here’s where we come to the hard part of using blogs to foster political dialogue. Rondo’s comment above, even if you agree that unions are the problem in education, is not something that is going to foster a constructive back-and-forth, or change any minds not already made up. No one sympathetic to the union position is going to jump in to this discussion, if he or she thinks they will be immediately subjected to a bunch of name calling.

However, in a very different but important way, Mr. Purtill’s transparently phony proposal to increase spending while cutting taxes impedes constructive debate almost as badly. Why bother making an honest argument to someone who’s going to hide his real plans tell you what he thinks you want to hear -- right up until he gains the power to spring something very different from what was promised on you?

So here’s what I’m asking. Please, continue using this forum to criticize anyone you think deserves it (like I need to ask for that!), but do it without resorting to name calling or over-the top analogies, and try to give people you disagree with something maybe they can respond to. Then, there will be no excuses for those who support positions like Mr. Purtill’s to not try to explain what it is they really support and why it is that they are not willing to be more forthcoming about their proposals.

Posted by: Andrew at April 3, 2007 9:54 PM


The money that stays behind in a Utah school district after a student chooses to leave is the political compromise I referred to. The authors of the Utah plan could have picked an amount that made the program revenue neutral, but chose a number that would increase total education spending instead, in order to make the plan an easier sell.

Posted by: Andrew at April 3, 2007 9:56 PM
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