Monday, September 21, 2015

Taxes, Tests, and Trumpisms

"We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to... help schools and communities falling behind." - Source, Donald J. Trump's Presidential Campaign Website

As I was volunteering at the Collin County Democratic Party booth during this last weekend's Plano Balloon Festival, I was joined in conversation with a fair vendor and Scott Coleman, one of our Democratic candidates for Texas State Representative, District 67.
We discussed a myriad of topics, and at one point touched on public education. We briefly touched on the revolting amount of money ($13 billion) and time (45 days) spent each year on the STAAR test, even though studies have demonstrated its inadequacy as an instructional tool. After that, the vendor mentioned her belief that the failure of our schools is due to the significant number of migrants who do not pay taxes into the system.
Throughout my time as a public education advocate, this idea has been put forth on a normal basis as an "unassailable fact."

But is it really the truth?

To figure that out, it is necessary to understand a few simple facts about public school finance in Texas. First, every district's budget consists of three revenue streams; Federal (via income taxes), State (via sales taxes), and Local (via property taxes). The state and local portion of the budget are approximately 45% each, and the federal portion is 10% or less.

Some immigrants are undocumented and are not currently paying federal income taxes, but all of them pay property taxes (through rent) and sales taxes (on goods and services). Technically, that means they pay about 90% of the same tax as the rest of us.

But what about that other 10%?

As I have stated in prior posts, the STAAR test is an unfunded federal mandate, on which we have wasted upwards of $13 billion per year with no positive results. A simple solution is to eliminate the STAAR test entirely. Yes, the federal government might hold back their measly $6 billion in funding, but we can use the other $7 billion to decrease class sizes. Freeing up 45 days of the school year for actual instruction would sure go a long way to mitigating the effects of the growing poverty on educational attainment.

Without the test, we all pay the same taxes into our school system, eliminating the argument that immigrants are the reason for our schools' failure and refocusing public ire where it belongs, the Texas Legislature. We've allowed them to scapegoat citizens of Hispanic descent for far too long. The fear of migrants is an antiquated tool used most often by charlatans on the right, like Trump, to defund and privatize key social services. The only way to address this fear is through the liberal application of knowledge.

Please join me in calling our representatives in Austin (and any upcoming candidates) to eliminate standardized testing in Texas public schools.

Your friend (and ally),

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

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