A friend from church just learned that he has been laid off. John is an elementary school teacher in Durham Public Schools – and because he has not been working for the school system very long, and since he is still working towards licensure, he was one of the many committed new teachers let go under the current budget crunch.
I have just spent about 20 minutes trying to find information on the internet about how much a teacher costs to employ – not just their salary, but the total spent per teacher on salary plus health care, continuing ed, and other benefits. You know, so I could help the school board balance their budget. Since they clearly can’t do it themselves. I can’t just decide to stop paying my electric or gas or mortgage. And teachers are as essential to a functioning school system as those former bills are to keeping my household. The cell phones and internet can go. But I need running water. And if I can’t afford to pay for it, it is time for me to head on down to social services and find out how to get my hands on some emergency funds – once I have exhausted my own resources utterly.
Now, I don’t know all the facts of the solvency of the school system – but I have heard that the school system has some rainy day funds, and it is certainly a rainy day for John, for dozens (perhaps hundreds) of his cohort, and for all of the students and remaining teachers, who will have to contend with larger class sizes.
But it also occurs to me that all of these politicians who say that they believe in education actually believe much more in keeping their own salaries intact – which are, by the way, a bit higher than the average teacher’s salary. And the best way to do this is to not raise taxes – in fact, to cut them.
[ Let me here remind my British and other European friends, who look on U.S. politics with much consternation, that we in the U.S. owe our very genesis as a nation to a row over taxes – which has never been forgotten, whereas the particular injustice of the situation has been glossed over, so that “taxation without representation” has come to mean “look here comes the tax man again – I am being oppressed!!” And this is a necessarily brief sketch of how a few educated and principled political philosophers gave rise to a bunch of money-grubbing anarachists, governed by a handful of cunning oligarchs, hiding behind their corporate charters. But I digress.]
And so it is that I have come to propose a tax, knowing full well that it will never be enacted, because – on election day – no new taxes trumps improving education. And I propose a tax also knowing that I am going to hear about this from some individuals saying that the Christian way is to facilitate private responsibility / voluntary giving (also known as “fox guarding the henhouse” when referring to the oxymoronic “voluntary regulation”) – however, without getting too deeply into it, I believe that this view is out of line with the (almost) universal Christian belief in the pervasiveness of the Fall – a world under the influence of sin will only behave sinfully, and must somehow be compelled to act in the interest of all of God’s creatures. Because I do not believe that anyone is suggesting that the kingdom has come and all have been perfected in love.
“And so in futility and no little amount of trepidation, she continued…”
What if there were a tax on private school tuition, the proceeds of which directly funded the public school system? When parents pull their children from public schools to place them in private schools, they perceive that the expense is worth it to improve the lot of their own child or children – not least with lower class sizes. But what of the children in the public schools?
Now, I would not propose that those who can afford dental care not take their children to the dentist in solidarity with those who cannot afford dental care.
[ Note to my European friends: yes, I’m sure we appear barabarous to you. And likewise to the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which listed such things as medical care, housing, and education as human rights. [ Note to my Hauerwasian friends: I am not here advocating the language of “rights” as a theological category. [ Note to self: less digressions next time.] ] ]
And while I believe that one may receive a fine education in a public classroom, or a poor one in a private classroom, if we with these reservations accept the analogy, I am not suggesting that parents not send their children to private school if they feel so convicted. However, I am suggesting that, just as I would accept a 10% surcharge at the dentist that went to free dental clinics [under the current weird system where dental care is somehow a privilege for some], so ought the more well-off parents accept a surcharge on the private school tuition they pay, in order that those who have no choice about where they go to school might also have improved circumstances. I am not here talking about federally mandated standardized testing, which only public students (and just as much so, public school teachers!) are subjected to – because we do not need money to make the improvement of doing away with those. Instead, I am referring to smaller classes – with one lucky group of students taught by John!
Best wishes, John! I know that you will make a positive difference in the lives of whomever you serve – I am most sorry that the diverse children of Durham, NC will no longer be the beneficiaries of so much of your time and energy.