Pay Per Pupil?

Filed in Delaware by on January 3, 2016

“Only those who have children should pay for public schools.” An interesting thought, isn’t it? I heard it often while campaigning for the Christina School District referenda, “I don’t have any kids, why should I have to pay taxes for schools?” and it’s second cousin “Let the people who have kids pay based on how many children they have in school.” seemed to loiter whenever discussions about school taxes were had during the campaign. They’re hanging around again as we await the State Board’s decision on the WEIC plan and while I don’t live in the Brandywine School District, given that they’re going out for operating and capital referenda in March this year, they’re probably hearing these two challenges to the school funding system as well.

As with all things government service, you can’t take 2 steps without tripping over some sort of criticism or complaint about the way things are done. The public school system in Delaware and nation-wide, isn’t an exception. For however many legit complaints against public education there are though, the way we pay for it; everyone who owns property chips in, isn’t one of them. Public schools are the original crowd-fund project. Everyone pays for our schools (yes everyone, even renters). As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it should be. The key word in Public School is “Public”



  • of or concerning the people as a whole


  • ordinary people in general; the community

Anyone can send their kid to school without regard to their ability to pay for it. That makes public school, public. You live in Delaware? Your child can go to school. Don’t have kids? Your neighbor’s kids are going to be running your community one day, probably while you’re still alive. Their education is probably something worth you spending a bit of money on, no? If a school bills parents based on the number of kids they have enrolled, it’s no longer a public school, it’s a private school; we already have those (and they continue to lose students back to the public school system year after year).

One of my go-to rebuttals to these two arguments continues to be this: Imagine if we paid for other government services on a per use basis. Fire companies. They can’t douse your burning home until you pay them. Paramedics can’t begin to administer emergency medical care until your form of payment clears. Police can’t come take your car accident report until they verify your credit card transaction goes through. They can’t investigate your home invasion until you remit payment “Sorry sir, we don’t take Android Pay, only Apple Pay”. The 911 phone system. “The fee for this service is $2.99 per minute for the first minute, and $1.99 per minute thereafter, please enter your 16-digit credit or debit card number followed by the pound sign”. Transportation. I take Route 40 to work sometimes. Sometimes I take 896. Imagine if they set up EZ Pass sensors at every point where a secondary road connected. That’s the thing about living in a society. YOU don’t have to personally benefit from everything you help support, public schools included. You support these services to better your community as a whole. Although everyone likely does benefit personally from publicly educated people whether they want to admit it or not.

Maybe the property tax method doesn’t cast quite a wide enough revenue net, but it is a pretty big net nonetheless. So what do you say? Is it “fair” to have to pay for things like public education, police, fire, 911, ambulances, paramedics, transportation even if you don’t personally use the service? I’m interested to hear your rebuttals, or your support for this type of argument.

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About the Author ()

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Small tent progressive/liberal. Christina School District Citizen's Budget Oversight Committee member, who knows a bit about a lot when it comes to the convoluted mess that is education funding in the State of Delaware.

Comments (29)

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  1. pandora says:

    Very true, Brian. These “I don’t have kids” arguments have been around forever and they’re still short-sighted. Why people don’t see the value in an educated society baffles me. They don’t seem to understand that today’s children will be their bankers, nurses, police/fire fighters, medicare and SS distributors, etc.. Guess they can only support services they think they will possibly need.

    That said, I know city residents are frustrated, especially in Red Clay – a district that keeps building brand new suburban schools while never seeming to have the money to improve its city schools. City residents never see their tax dollars going to their schools in any meaningful way.

    Another point that bothers people when it comes to referendums is how school districts get out the vote with their parent only pizza parties, game nights, etc.. This practice needs to stop. It deliberately disenfranchises tax payers without children in public schools.

    I have always voted for operational referendums and will continue to do so, but it really bothers me how districts have always painted voters with no children, or no children in the system, as the enemy (And boy, do they do that! It’s part of their campaign strategy. The comments about senior citizens, and how they bus them in, are nasty and, I guess, effective.) Districts rely on keeping a large portion of the population in the dark about an upcoming referendum – even the voting hours (not beginning until 10am) and location (schools) is designed for the ease of parents. Toss in all those referendum night parties and we’ve created an election that incentivizes one group to vote with ease.

    But the outcry against referendums is part of a bigger plan – the plan of privatization. Turning people against public schools and the taxes that fund them is a deliberate strategy to end true public education. Blaming teacher unions is also part of that plan. All roads lead to charter, privatization and, god forbid, vouchers – all of which still require tax dollars.

    All this said, I 100% support referendums (altho, I’d rather fund public schools like we fund Vo-Techs, or something similar). And districts need to drop their “us vs them” tactics. It makes passing a referendum harder. And I still don’t understand why many charter parents don’t support a referendum. Do they not know how their school is funded?

  2. pandora says:

    BTW, despite my “in the weeds” reply, I agree with you! 🙂

  3. One of the things that bothered me was the assumption that seniors are always no votes, so none of the campaigning should be done to show them how their investment is paying off in their community schools. Christina made it a point to reach out to seniors during the referendum attempts last year. There were performances and visits from school students scheduled at senior centers. Our campaigners made stops to talk to them and show them that their money is not wasted on schools. It worked, too. We didn’t do enough of that, though.

    Christina will definitely be going out for referendum again this year and part of our strategy will be to show our seniors, many of whom rely on fixed incomes, that the portion they invest in public education is not wastefully spent.

    I don’t like the poll hours either, we need the Dept. of Elections to modify that for all districts.

    Parent-student events during a referendum won’t be around much longer after the difficulties highlighted in Red Clay last year. I don’t think the events are completely wrong, but they definitely could have been used more effectively.

    Quick story: A fellow Christina CBOC member doesn’t have children. She was a “No” vote during the CSD referendum attempt in February last year. She even drove people to the polls to vote no in February. I ‘ran into’ her on Christina’s Facebook page and challenged her to come to one of our CBOC meetings to actually see how hard it is to finance public schools and learn about the ‘other side’ of it. (What actually happens to your money once you pay your school taxes). She showed up at our next meeting, and the one after that, and the one after that, voted yes and campaigned hard for us in May, became a CBOC member and has continued to be heavily involved ever since.

    Point being, I don’t like painting people as ‘the enemy’. We didn’t do it last year for CSD and I don’t want it done this year either. The only way you change No to Yes is by engaging and learning. We even tried to get some of the anti-school, anti-tax right-wingers to come out and talk with us. We’ll engage with anyone. It paid off (though not enough) in the form of a significant increase in “yes” votes in May.

  4. cassandra_m says:

    “Only those who have children should pay for public schools.”

    One of the reasons that this is prevalent (and getting more so) is the result of the rhetoric around charters and “school choice”. There’s alot of effort to frame the value of these as a way of giving parents the choices to educate their children as they see fit. Which is fine, but that cuts out the “public obligation” of public schools. If people are choosing to send their kids to mediocre to failing public schools, why should I pay for that, really? The discussion around public schools is parent-focused until it comes to the money. You can’t sever the public from a discussion of quality and form of education and then expect them to care about it when you need to fund all of this stuff parents keep choosing.

    Here, we also have the isolation of school board elections outside of the regular election cycle. That process doesn’t engage the public — it engages parents and those with a vested interest. And don’t tell me that these elections aren’t political already. Just don’t. Keeping these elections controlled to a small group of participants is as political as it gets.

  5. Tom Kline says:

    Many, many of us have paid school taxes and private school tuition. There comes a point when enough is enough. Those with children in school should pay more while they’re in school and less when they graduate.

    Our state is dying folks..

  6. Fatalistic rhetoric isn’t necessary, or appropriate. Our state isn’t dying. Our public is disenfranchised, as evidenced by your comment Tom.

    Scaling payment for public service based on usage is really, really, really short-sighted. Your personal choices don’t opt you out of your obligations to being a part of a society. Private schooling your children is a choice you make knowing your obligations to the rest of society remain if you make that choice.

    Cassandra, You’re absolutely correct about severing the public from the education process. I don’t like targeting parents only. Playing devil’s advocate though, with the referendum system set up as it is, which basically forces districts to live and die by the outcome of each vote, you target your effort and resources on your “yes” votes with the hope that they outnumber your no votes. It’s insanely political which is something education shouldn’t be.

    School board elections need reform, shortened terms, getting them on an election cycle with other elections *AND* speaking as a Christina School District resident, a recall process put in place for Board members.

  7. Liberal Elite says:

    @BS “It’s insanely political which is something education shouldn’t be.”

    And that’s what is unique to America. It’s also the foundation of the trouble with our educational system.

    In many countries, teachers are recruited from the top half of the college graduating classes (think Korea, Japan,…). But we “recruit” our teachers from the bottom 25% and then treat them like trash.

    If you really want to fix education in America, you need to fix that first.
    Politics has made a career in education something to avoid.

  8. Christy says:

    Defining the word public was genius. I am sure few people ever thought of that word as a group that included themselves.

  9. Jeff says:

    I don’t have kids but I know I have to pay my fair share. I just wish the funds were spent responsibly. I feel funds get misappropriated.

  10. Steve Newton says:

    @LE Sorry but this isn’t true, and even if it ever was, it hasn’t been for a long time:

    But we “recruit” our teachers from the bottom 25% and then treat them like trash.

    Maybe the treat them like trash part, but our teacher ed majors today are almost all in the top 20-30% of their classes and have to pass major tests just to get the opportunity to be in classrooms. Student observations in classrooms start in the sophomore year; students start delivering lessons in real schools in their junior years, and the student teaching experience itself is a full year long. “Bottom 25%”? You have to be kidding. Today’s teacher education programs have wash-out rates comparable to engineering and computer science degrees.

  11. Liberal Elite says:

    @SN “Today’s teacher education programs have wash-out rates comparable to engineering and computer science degrees.”

    I think a lot of that are people quitting because they are treated like trash.
    Case in point… My daughter got a Masters of Education, started teaching, and after one year had enough. She then went to medical school…

    The wash out rates so some of the Masters of Education programs is about 2%. I would hardly call that high. The real washout occurs later, when young teachers just get fed up and quit.

    And yes. If you look at who is going into teaching from the major universities, it really is the bottom 25%. That certainly true for the Ivy league schools and I believe that also includes the flagship public universities (UCB, UNC, Michigan,…). Maybe that’s different for the eight colleges in Delaware, but I’d be surprised if it was all that different.

    In my field, the ones who go teach high school, are the ones who really can’t get any other job. These people are not the top half… not even close.

  12. Steve Newton says:

    I think you are mixing apples with a lot of citrus fruit.

    The fact that your daughter was treated like trash is regrettable, but not evidence of lack of teacher preparation programs. Likewise, the washout rates in MA in Ed programs is also immaterial–the buy-in credential is a BA or BS.

    As for “major universities,” you first cite Ivy League schools, which have never been and never will be sources for teachers. Anybody who can go there will not leave and take a job with a teacher’s starting salary.

    Flagship public universities? Have you actually checked? GPAs (what else would you use to measure) of students leaving teacher education programs at UVA, UNC, Maryland, and Georgia (the ones I’ve personally verified) average in the top 25% of their classes. In Delaware if you check you will discover that at UD, DSU, and Wilmington U. a very large number of teacher education graduates enter up Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Summa Cum Laude. At UD and DSU (I don’t know for sure about WU but suspect it is the same) you need a 3.0 just to stay in the program and a 3.25 just to go student teach. Approximately 30% of the freshmen and sophomores wash out from these programs, along with another 10-15% during their last two years. Then they compete in a job market where there are generally only two openings for every five new graduates. Please don’t try to hand me this idea that teaching is a “bottom of the barrel” major; it just isn’t true.

    The fact that people believe our teachers, especially our newly graduated teachers, are somehow intellectually and academically inferior to those of other nations is what has given us the blight of Teach for America, Race to the Top, and other idiotic “accountability” programs designed to “correct” the non-existent (as a group) faults of American teachers for corporate profit.

  13. Liberal Elite says:

    @SN Thanks for your response.

    “As for “major universities,” you first cite Ivy League schools, which have never been and never will be sources for teachers.”

    I know a few who went to Caltech and Harvard who ended up as HS teachers after a difficult attempt at something better. I also know quite a few with PhDs who went to teach HS after running out of other options. And that’s partly because many high schools pay better than being an adjunct professor.

    “GPAs (what else would you use to measure) of students leaving teacher education programs at UVA, UNC, Maryland, and Georgia (the ones I’ve personally verified) average in the top 25% of their classes.”

    I find this hard to believe. And if it is true, I seriously doubt that it’s consistent across all disciplines. Does this include STEM education?

  14. Steve Newton says:

    @LE I’m sorry you find this hard to believe. For accreditation purposes and other institutional purposes I’ve been studying teacher education stats at both comparable universities to DSU, aspirational universities, and flagship universities in the southeast for several years. These GPAs are indeed true, and they do include STEM fields. In point of fact, most teacher education graduates coming out of math or science tend to have GPAs well above 3.5 or they wash out. They have to take the same chemistry, physics, biology classes etc., etc., and pass the Praxis 2 to even get into student teaching. Passing the Praxis 2 in Middle School Math, for example, requires good grades in Linear Algebra, Finite Math, and Statistics … and that’s middle school math. Students majoring in high school math (like my daughter) are taking at least three semesters of calculus and sundry other courses in theoretical math.

    The days in which students who are low achievers could major in teacher education and end up with a job started disappearing in the mid-1990s, and since about 2007 they have been gone entirely.

  15. Liberal Elite says:

    All right then. That makes me feel better. Perhaps my data is obsolete (and that maybe I spend too much time at the wrong universities…).

  16. mouse says:

    Some of these people who call themselves conservative republicans are so myopically selfish, they they continually work against their own interests

  17. mouse says:

    I almost learned to divide by zero once.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I made the choice to send our children to private schools. Brian, you made a statement about our neighbors children running our society in the future; “Your neighbor’s kids are going to be running your community one day, probably while you’re still alive. Their education is probably something worth you spending a bit of money on, no?”
    Brian, that goes the same for private school children too!

    I think that if we gave some type of break to people who were sending their children to private school, maybe they would be more apt to vote for referendums for the public sector.

    Current administration – The “common core” has been a bust and other states are dropping it. People see the dysfunctional public education and they don’t want to fund it.

  19. pandora says:

    Nope. No break for opting out of the public school system. (And we sent our kids to private school for several years, knew what we were doing and didn’t expect some type of break.) Maybe next people can advocate for FedEx giving them a break since they are using them and not the US Postal service. And Brian didn’t imply that private school children wouldn’t contribute, so I’m not sure what your point is. #AllChildrenContribute?

    This is the biggest problem with charters – they are private schools funded with public money.

  20. Definitely wasn’t suggesting private school students don’t/won’t contribute to society’s future. I was suggesting that as a resident/citizen of Delaware and one of its public school districts, you are obligated to support the services provided to the community by virtue of being a member of said community. The option to not avail yourself or your children of those services is your own to make. On some of the occasions one of our children has needed emergency medical care, my wife and I opted to drive them ourselves rather than call 911. My option not to use the publicly funded 911 system that everyone has access to doesn’t grant me a ‘break’ on my phone bill, nor would I expect it to.

    However, private school parents already enjoy an existing ‘break’ for opting their child(ren) out of the public school system in the form of a transportation stipend.

    DE Administrative Code: Title 14: Section 1150 §26.0 (bottom of the page)

    “Nonpublic; nonprofit schools”

    26.7 The nonpublic, nonprofit school shall submit a transportation form, provided by the Department of Education, indicating eligible reimbursements, no later than October 1st of each year. All information shall be based on September 30th enrollment and eligibility. After the submission of the final transportation form no further adjustments for eligibility shall be made for the remainder of the school year.

    The option to not send your children to publicly funded schools is your own, just as it was my parents decision to send my sister and I to private school. They knew the implications of doing so, they paid tuition and their school taxes and voted in referenda. Private schools are an alternative to, not a replacement for, public schools.

    @Jeff, you are not alone in thinking funds are spent inappropriately. That’s the primarly, if not the sole, reason that volunteer Financial Review Committees (AKA Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committees) exist in every district in the state, and meet monthly (or more frequently as needed) to go over their district’s finances, budgets, projections, expenditures, etc. Not sure what district you’re in, but if you don’t know about them definitely look into them. Even if you don’t join, the committee members usually love questions and can get you answers relatively quickly.

  21. @Christy: We ran into that a lot over the last year. Somehow those who don’t have kids or opt their kids out of public education feel they’re also opted out of the obligations of being a member of the public.

  22. Anonymous says:

    @ Brian: Your going with the transportation stipend? Are you kidding me, what a joke that is!!! That is so small. The state spends roughly 1.8 million to reimburse the parents for transportation, most just give it back to the school.
    There is roughly, 11,000 students that attend private schools, I’d like to see what the state would do with the influx of 11,000 students.

  23. @Anon, you said ‘break’. You did not specify scope or magnitude of the break. What the parents do with that stipend, just like the decision to send their kids to private school, is their choice. The ramifications of making that choice are theirs too.

  24. Mikem2784 says:

    Of course its fair for everyone to pay. Public education is important for so many reasons, and it is typically good in spite of the bad press. Those who want to send their kids to private schools should pay for it without that taking away from the public schools.

    That said, the referendum/property tax system is a mess. The districts should be equally and proportionally funded, period.

  25. Tom Kline says:

    Stephan – I do believe this state is dying at many levels and going the way of Detroit. Many high net-worth individuals like myself share the same opinion.

    The sick gazelles have weaken the heard.

  26. mediawatch says:

    “The sick gazelles weaken the herd.”


    Applyling that analogy to the poverty issue, I suppose high-wealth individuals like you might argue that the best way to do away with the minimum wage is to eliminate all the people who earn at that level.

  27. Geezer says:

    @MW: This fuckwit has been banging his little toy drum for years. If he has a “high net worth,” which I doubt, he didn’t earn it with brain power.

  28. pandora says:

    High net worth, horrific grammar and a vile person. One of these things is probably not true. Guess which one!

  29. Tom Kline says:

    LOL – All are true.