Friday, February 8, 2019

IA: Choice Is Taxation Without Representation

An Iowa state senator has caught on to one of the problematic side effects of many choice programs-- disenfranchised taxpayers. Or, as somebody put it a while ago, taxation without representation.

Iowa has long allowed open enrollment; an Iowa family can enroll their student in any public school district, whether they live there or not. Currently the full per-pupil expenditure follows the student-- including the part of the expenditure that is collected by the taxpayer in the student's home district.

In other words, if I live in East Spamwich and pay taxes on my home there to fund the school. Only a large number of students from the area may attend school in West Spamwich. I'm able to vote for the school board members in the East Spamwich school board, but in West Spamwich, where much of my money goes to be spent, I have no say at all.

Republican State Senator Tom Greene (no relation, as far as I know) was newly elected in an upset contest in 2016. In real life, he's a pharmacist, but he was also the board president of Burlington School Board, and that gives him some perspective (from Radio Iowa).

“The Burlington School District totally surrounds the West Burlington School District. The West Burlington School District has 800 and 900 students; 53 percent of those students reside outside the boundaries of the West Burlington School District,” Greene says. “A huge amount of money comes into the West Burlington School District from outside, but those taxpayers have no say in how that money is spent. That’s my biggest concern.”

This, of course, is not just a problem with an open enrollment system like Iowa's, but with any choice system around. Charter and voucher fans like to extoll the free market mechanics of such a system-- if a school is bad, everyone will vote with their feet and it will deservedly close. But there are other taxpayers paying into that system-- taxpayers without students and so who cannot vote with either their feet or any other appendages. A choice system completely disenfranchises taxpayers without school age children.

Greene is proposing that only the state and federal money follow the student, which is not much of a hardship for receiving schools in a state in which local property tax only pays about 12% of the total cost.

But to establish the principle that you can't just take tax money and stick it where the voter representation don't shine would be a big change in how choice systems are handled and would have immediate implications for charter and voucher systems (though Iowa charters must be authorized and supervised by local school districts, so it's not quite as bad as California or Ohio or Florida where schools can be foisted on taxpayers by people who are neither elected nor in the district). If the bill passes, and if anybody pays attention to the implications. Keep an eye on Iowa.

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