Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is Education Funded by Property Tax?

I've been given the impression many times that public education is funded mostly by property taxes. Today I took the time to find out if that's true.

Here we find out that 43.7% of K-12 schooling is from local governments. Since local governments are the ones that lay property taxes (state property taxes are negligible), we can already see public education cannot be funded mostly by property taxes.

So how much of this 43.7% of local government funding comes from property tax? Well property tax is one of the important ways local government collects revenue, but we can see here that property tax makes up 47% of local government revenue.

So we find 47% of 43.7% and get... 20% of overall primary/secondary school expenditure comes from property taxes.

Okay. That's important but not huge. And some states have very very high education expenditure relative to local governments (85.7% in Vermont for example), so clearly public education cannot be funded by property taxes in these states.

As I read through arguments on the issue, I identified at least a few ways people are being misled on the issue.

  • Use of terms like "primary funding". It might be correct that education is "primarily" funded by property taxes, if by primary you mean, "more than anything else". But when something is funded by a lot of different sources, as with education, "more than anything else" can still mean not very much. Besides that, "primary" can also mean mostly, and I think that's what most people read.
  • Not realizing that by looking at property taxes, you're looking at a slice of a slice of the pie. Property tax funding of local funding of total funding is making more than one cut, and that's not always clear the way it is talked about.
  • Looking at what proportion of property tax revenue is spend on education rather than how much education consists of property tax revenue.
So all this combined with the common bias people have of sacralizing education alongside common folk criticism of "spending cuts" from a total lack of information, it seems this is not an issue where people have their heads on straight.