Conservative tax support for education | Opinion
Before the pandemic, the Washington Post noted something interesting: fiscal conservatives were touting renewed investments in schools and education. States like Arizona and Oklahoma had cut education funding, but realized populism meant caring about families, neighborhoods, including teacher salaries. That was before the pandemic changed the education landscape, but some fiscal conservatives like Frederick M. Hess of National Affairs magazine have argued that too many conservatives voice what they’re against instead of what they support. .
Hess writes, “Education is about preparing young people to be responsible citizens, instilling in them our culture and shared history, and empowering them to live as free and productive adults. ‘Responsibility’, ‘community’ and ‘self-determination’ should therefore be the watchwords of a coherent and positive vision of educational reform. Such an accusation suits both classical liberal conservatism and more populist conservatism, and also resonates with parents and educators.
Note that culture war issues such as teaching content about racism, gender issues in bathrooms, or banning books are not what this type of conservative view is looking for. Our young people need support to act responsibly, to make good choices and to have the right training to be productive citizens of a community in which they feel part.
I did not grow up in Pennsylvania, but certain qualities of living here for almost two decades have marked me a lot. Here is a great sense of continuity. The adults I know who have returned to the PA center have returned because they have made as good a home here as anywhere else they have lived as transplants, with strong roots here. The communities I see have a self-determined sequence for taking care of themselves – volunteering, fundraising, local help for local families in need. These families often go back generations. The love of the land and its landscape resonates deeply within me.
What do we look like on paper? In the rankings of the Opportunity Index, an annual report developed by Opportunity Nation and sponsors such as Prudential Insurance and Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand, Pennsylvania ranks in the 29th percentile in educational attainment and ranks quality of education just below Florida and just above Michigan, 22nd out of 50 US states. In terms of economic opportunity, we rank in the 51.9 percentile out of 100, with less broadband capacity, 12.5% families living in poverty, and unemployment above the national average. We have less health insurance coverage and more alcohol, drug and suicide related deaths than the national average. As explained in the study’s “State Rankings” page, the Opportunity Index reveals that negative indicators in the areas of community, health and the economy are correlated with youth disconnection, poverty , incarceration and few opportunities for higher education.
When we talk about education, many fiscal conservatives see short-term gains like lower property taxes, but not investments in citizenship, responsibility, and self-determination. Education is a driver of social capital, not just a private benefit, but correlated with a number of desirable outcomes: improved health, marital stability, and income, writes sociologist Lauren Schudde. She reports that benefits like these aggregate to the community when citizens with education options see returns in their communities, including less use of public assistance, less crime and incarceration, and greater civic participation. “Research suggests that public investment in higher education is ultimately repaid through increased sales, property and state income taxes – individuals reinvest their increased income – until four times”, improving economic growth and community health.
We are worthy of long-term investment because we see ourselves in the Susquehanna Counties as one region, not as separate communities competing for resources, but creating and adding value through apprenticeships, non-degree programs , training partnerships and more. Any reasonable fiscal conservative would want to invest in long-term gain. As curator Hess writes, “It’s high time for curators to broaden an opportunity agenda that has too often suffered from being pinched, narrow and ultimately unconvincing.” Education is not a culture war; it’s about economic advantage and overcoming the limits of our region’s growth.
HE Gilman, who lives in Monroe Township, has worked in social services, publishing, bookstores, kitchens and academia.