Free public education, we hardly knew ya

A gentleman called me today about the school district’s proposed property tax. He’s opposed to it, but says he has a better idea. Instead of raising taxes on residents with no kids in the schools, why not make parents and legal guardians pay tuition to enroll their kids in public schools, just like at UC and CalState.

He envisioned tuition of about $100 for elementary school students — high schoolers would pay more — and seemed amenable to scholarships for poor kids.

He didn’t seem to envision a lot of opposition from the rest of the city.

Matt Artz


  1. An educated population is one of those public goods that benefits all of us. Or so I thought.

    Besides, we already pay more than $100. For example:


    That doesn’t include the locker or the mandatory PE uniform. Or the other fundraisers like FEF, walkathons, etc.

    We could apply the same logic to other government services. Why should I pay for fire protection if my house isn’t burning?

  2. There’s no such thing as “free” public education (or “free” health care, “free” housing, “free” food, etc)–it’s a question of *who* pays for it.

    I think that gentleman is right, and some direct up-front tuition would be the fairest way to pay for (part of) education. It has those most directly affected by and benefiting from public education directly paying for a small portion–the public at large is still picking up the huge majority of the cost. And although $100 may be little to some, much to others, it assesses a direct “value” to attending school albeit only a small portion. People consider something more valuable and take an active interest & role in it when it’s *not* “free” (see moral hazard, copay).

  3. A lot of those older folks without children were educated in public schools, or sent their kids to public school.

    We can continue to invest in education now, or start saving to pay for the repercussions of managing a much larger population of unemployed, uninsured and unhappy people in the future.

  4. And for people who do not pay the additional fees, they need to sell their houses at a discount and not take into account the increased housing prices due to location near good Fremont public schools.

    Everyone benefits from a good public education system. The average education level rises, property values increase, and entire public benefits.

  5. I’m against any tax increases until public compensation is back in line with reality, but this guy sounds like another blood sucking baby boomer who got his when the getting was easy in CA and now can’t believe all that demand that has doubled his property value every 10 years comes with a small caveat.

    How ’bout this: Every boomer can sign on to exempt themselves from new property tax increases going forward, but their property can only appreciate at a rate no greater than inflation as measured by the CPI. Anything beyond this goes to the schools.

  6. Make them PAY!!!!!

    It’s a know fact that people who are the least intelligent have the most kids. So there shouldn’t be any reason that we should allow these morons to fill up our already dummy-filled society with even more dumbasses.

    One look at our country’s high school graduate will tell you though that it’s unlikely that even high-quality schooling can overcome the effect caused on a kid, by stupid, lazy, uncaring and irresponsible parents.

  7. Tony, and all who want parents alone to fund our schools-

    One choice you have as a non-procreator is to live in a neighborhood with a desperate elementary school. You’ll find the property values very low, and in turn your taxes will be much less than the young couples’ who pay more to live near good schools.

  8. $8,586 CA per-pupil-spending (2007–08)
    “$1400 below national average”
    (!!!, per the teachers unions)

    (feel free to reference other sites. Won’t change % significantly)

    If $100 direct “tuition” from a student’s family =>
    1.2% of cost of per-pupil spending.

    I hardly think that asking parents to *directly* kick in some funding, to the tune of single-digit percentages for their child’s education, qualifies as “parents alone fund(ing) our schools.” With a classroom of families (20-30+) kicking in a very small portion, per-pupil spending would reach the national average in one fell swoop. The community at large (with or without kids in the public schools) would still be funding over 98% of the “investment in education.” Unwilling to do that for your/our own kids?–whining about low property taxes and per-pupil spending falls on deaf ears.

  9. hardly think that asking parents to *directly* kick in some funding, to the tune of single-digit percentages for their child’s education, qualifies as “parents alone fund(ing) our schools.

    I don’t think giving up a single-digit percentage of that “hard earned” equity is too much to ask from a blood sucking boomer.

    Let’s meet in the middle, RescueBlues. I’ll pay my current $7K per year in property tax plus this little stipend you promote, and I’ll let you keep your Prop 13 protected $1800 per year in property tax, BUT you have to give me all of your appreciation beyond the CPI.

    After all, baby boomers contribute nothing. They’re unemployable liabilities at this point, who feed of my SS contributions.

  10. Sorry, no deal–I’m not a baby boomer and I pay about what you pay in property taxes, not $1800/yr (where’d you come up with that?). I’ll kick in my “stipend” for my kid and even pay it for another family in his class if they can prove to me that they can’t cover $100/yr for their kid (note: cable TV, gym memberships, smart-phone cell plans, etc. are likely to disqualify).

    And if you’re offering to accept all of somebody’s appreciations beyond the CPI, are you also willing to refund the depreciation for somebody who’s underwater on their house through no fault of their own? Seems only fair that you accept the bad with the good.

  11. are you also willing to refund the depreciation

    Wait a second. You’re the one who’s arguing for only experiencing the upside of your situation. If you want to reap the financial rewards from living in an area with a good school district, then pay your share so that district can thrive…er stay afloat.

    Like I said, those of you who don’t have kids have the option to buy in a neighborhood or city with a poorly performing elementary school. The Hayward hills are a prime example. The houses and views are gorgeous and would go for 700-800K in Fremont, but the schools are jail preparatories. That’s why they go for 400K.

    You knew the cost when you bought your Fremont house. If you think you’re getting a bad shake, then you should move… if you can sell!

    As far as the $1800/yr figure, that is about what the preceding generation is paying in taxes for the ~same home I live in. I used to be alright with that. Then I began to notice how most boomers’ financial strategy is to cannibalize those who came after them to sustain a standard of living few of them deserved.

    I’m betting the ‘gentleman’ who suggested this idea to Matt is of a similar breed.

    BTW, Rescue. Most parents pay much more than $100 in direct contributions to their school in a given year.

  12. Rescue: Your math doesn’t work. As you said, California spends $1400 less per pupil than the national average. Beyond that, Fremont gets $700 or so per pupil less than the state average. So how do you figure that $100 per pupil from the parents would get us back up to the national average?

    Even if the parcel tax passes, Fremont will be spending less per pupil than the state average, thanks to the funding formula that was worked out after Prop 13.

    Like Marty says, we are already making “voluntary” donations of more than $100 per student per year, without them the schools wouldn’t have paper or work-books or sheet music… the list goes on.

    You can’t have a successful city with underfunded schools.

  13. What I’m hearing is that the “solution” is to make “somebody else” pay. Raise property taxes, add a parcel tax, raise the sales tax, make the “rich” pay, etc. I might be willing to consider those. *However* when something as simple as having families *directly* chip in for their *own* child’s education–be that $100 or $1000–generates so much flak, I have to reconsider any support I’d have for general tax increases. Apparently education is only important if somebody else foots the bill.

  14. Marty(11)

    You’re arguing that if somebody owns a house that has appreciated they should be willing to pay more. Even if when they bought it the schools weren’t good but are now. But apparently if or when it depreciates they shouldn’t be allowed to pay less. In fact we should tack on a parcel tax that has no relationship to the value of the property because “somebody” needs to pay for better schools, and we can’t possibly ask those attending the schools to pony up first.

    Yes, I did know the costs when I bought my home. That’s one of the upsides of Prop-13 — property taxes don’t go up at the whim of a politician or because somebody thinks that a homeowner is a piggy bank and something needs more funding. So if “knowing the cost” is your acceptable criteria, you’re apparently fine with your $7K vs. your baby-boomer neighbor’s $1800. I’m not demanding a decrease, or increase, in what I pay now.

    On the issue of property taxes, I don’t like them at all. There’s often little or no correlation between the “value” of a property and its taxes vs. the ability of a person to pay (“little old retired lady”; two people who bought identical homes at different times for different amounts). If it were up to me we’d do away with this asset tax and raise income taxes (including a local piece that can’t be touched by the state or Feds) to balance out the revenue and no longer have to worry about the non-correlation.

    As for contributing to my child’s school, I kick in *way* more than $100 with direct contributions (via direct appeals/requests as well as observed needs) as well as my time. If a family can’t afford added costs, there are many volunteer opportunities. However, the 80-20 rule applies there as well.

  15. Recalling my first comment: “An educated population is one of those public goods that benefits all of us. Or so I thought.”

    Isn’t that why we have public schools? Paid for by the public?

    It’s also why we have public roads, police departments, etc.

    Still, the public doesn’t pay the full cost of public education. Families of students already “donate” money and supplies (and time) to fill the gap. It’s easily more than $100.

  16. Rescue: It is good to hear that you are in the same boat as the rest of us parents, rather than merely taking a selfish position. The problem with income tax is that it varies year over year a lot, it goes to the state, and the state has not chosen to smooth out the variations.
    I’m glad you see fit to donate, I think the Save Fremont Schools drive showed that some families were ready to donate even when it would be spread out over the whole district and not be reserved to their own school.
    You can come up with different approaches that may sound better, but given that more than 30 years after Prop 13 the funding for Fremont in particular is less than the state average, I don’t see a way to fix it without a parcel tax that we can keep local.

  17. Rescue, I can understand your general thoughts on taxes in CA, but to target public education of all things is a lame position to take.

    Calculating off the top of my head, any family who has two children in public school at $8600 a pop should be paying the state 17,200 per year in taxes to fund their share of education costs alone. With deductions on the average Bay Area home (30k in interest and tax per year), we’re talking $210,000 per year to cover the cost to educate their own kids.

    Add in the cost for roads, parks, libraries, public safety and you should be earning over $300,000 to cover your burden.

    So, rescue – did you earn 300,000 this year? No? Better start writing some thank you cards to those who’ve been supporting you with government cheese.

  18. Well, I only have one kid in school and I paid the state well above $8600 in CA taxes (income, property, sales, other?) along with whatever portion of my taxes the Feds deemed to send back for education. So I guess I covered my kid and helped out with another (for the moment ignoring a more realistic breakdown for all the other services we use). As far as I know, if the Fremont education parcel tax passes, I’ll be told to pay the full $53, not half of that.

    However, you make the point I was making–if I had another kid, my taxes wouldn’t increase (heck, with another deduction they’d probably go down) to cover him even though my “share” of education expenses has doubled. Now you can continue with your tax methodology–raise broad-base taxes in an effort to suck up funds from the general population. Or you could send *me* a bill (e.g. bill, deduction change, income tax increase) for $8600 to cover the additional kid. Personally I’d be fine with that (if I had the additional kid). I wonder what others would do if they “knew the cost” before they had kids.

    The funny thing about your $300K example–if I didn’t earn that (to pay enough taxes for my theoretical two kids) I’m sponging off society. If I did earn that, I’d be expected to pay more to cover others as “my fair share to society” regardless of how many kids I had. Seems to lack any concept of personal responsibility and accountability.

    And I’m not “targeting education”–that was title of the article that started this thread which lead me to assert that someone should pay something *directly* (comically little @ $100 as an example, generating plenty of flak) for a service (education) used by a household. And it’s the one that’s currently on the November ballot in Fremont as a parcel tax although other areas are using other taxes (e.g. utility) targeted at other services (e.g. police, fire) in the same way.

  19. RB, what did you pay toward, for example, the prison system? Assuming you have no children in prison, I guess it’s okay to contribute $0? Why should you pay for a prison system you’re not using?

    But if you had two children in prison, should you pay more than somebody with only one child in prison?

    Of course, it doesn’t (and won’t) work that way. Most of us are not in prison, but prisons are paid for by all of us. And I’m pretty sure we don’t expect prisoners to pay $100/year toward their incarceration.

  20. Since I paid far more than my “share” for my kid’s education this year per Marty’s estimate, I guess my taxes paid for education-at-large, prisons, parks, roads, police & fire, the military, pensions and a gazillion other things. And, big picture, I and everybody else “underpaid” since we as a country ran a deficit over $1T although if & how we’re spending all that money is open to debate.

    In the case of prisons, police, fire, etc. it’s a bit more nebulous since the benefit is usually less direct and more to the society at large. We could go with a more direct system (e.g. there are places in the country where residents of an area are directly accessed for “their” police and fire support; some parents pay for private schools) but I wasn’t advocating that here. If somebody proposed requiring parents to pay a fee if their minor children are in prison I would probably be OK with that.

    The thing I find hysterical about this conversation is that nowhere did I say that I or anybody else should pay less in taxes or not heavily fund education (52% of the CA budget). All I did was suggest that *if* we’re underfunding in an area (e.g. education), a fair way to raise some additional revenue (< 2% in my example) would be to *start* with some direct fees to those benefiting, including myself. But wow, we can't have that! If Fremont citizens don't provide that 2/3 majority for the parcel tax in November, you'll call them "selfish" but I see that the selfishness started here.

    As another non-education fee-based example, Fremont created a fee for alarm permits. I'm not sure what justifies that since they still won't send a car to a house if a burglar alarm goes off unless it's "verified.". Other cities instead charge a fee for responding to an alarm (at least if it's a false alarm) so that the folks wasting the police's time pay while not penalizing legitimate alarms. I'm still waiting for the ballot measure for a "alarm response" parcel tax to show up in our city so we can all equally & fairly share the expense.

  21. MTV(19)

    I paid the same 7% of my taxes (per CA budget) on prisons as you or anybody else. Since I never advocated *only* paying for “my” share of a service (be that education, prisons, police & fire, etc.) asserting that anybody said or implied that “it’s OK to contribute $0” is a strawman.

    I would certainly be fine with requiring convicted-of-a-crime prisoners to pay as much as possible toward their incarceration–hasn’t somebody passed a law requiring that by now? If not I should write to my state representatives.

    As another non-education fee example, Fremont instituted a fee for alarm permits. I’m not sure what now justifies that since they won’t send a car to a house if a burglar alarm goes off and somebody calls it in unless it’s “verified.” Other cities instead charge a fee for responding to an alarm (at least if it’s a false alarm) so that the folks wasting the police’s time pay while not penalizing people for legitimate alarms. And some people pay a private security company to send somebody since the police won’t come. I’m still waiting for the “alarm response parcel tax” ballot measure so we can all equally & fairly share the expense for this additional service from the publicly-funded police.

    The thing I find hysterical about this conversation is that nowhere did I say that I or anybody else should pay less in taxes or not heavily fund education (40%+ of the CA budget). All I did was suggest that if we’re underfunding education, a fair way to raise some additional revenue (< 2% in my example) would be to *start* with some direct fees to those benefiting, including myself. But wow, we can't have that–public funding of something must be unlimited!

    If Fremont citizens don't provide that 2/3 majority for the parcel tax in November, you'll call them "selfish" but I contend that the selfishness started here. I was thinking that I'd probably vote for the education parcel tax in Nov. but now I'm seriously reconsidering. If I have to pick between the two extremes — "you're selfish if you won't pay the full bill for somebody else's service [or, more accurately, only 90-98% of a service]" vs. "you're selfish if you expect everybody *else* to pay for *all* of *your* service" — I guess I'll take the first.

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