Tax policy may not sound like the most interesting topic in the education reform world, but it is essential to ensuring our schools and teachers have the necessary resources to give every student a high-quality opportunity to learn. For a case in point, check out this recent op-ed in the Boston Globe from OTL ally Noah Berger, President of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
As Berger explains, 15 years ago Massachusetts policymakers made drastic cuts to the state's income tax that now cost MA close to $3 billion a year in foregone revenue. Back then, during the dot-com bubble, the state could afford the cuts. But the long-term effect of those lower tax rates has meant severe budget cuts since 2001 that have hurt some of the state's most important services, particularly education. Adjusted for inflation, here's how the spending was affected:
"Higher education down 31 percent: Tuition and fees have roughly doubled, making it hard for young people from moderate-income families to gain access to higher education and limiting the state’s ability to build a high-wage economy propelled by well-educated workers.
Local aid down 45 percent: With less state support, cities and towns have been forced to cut back on local services or shift costs to the property tax.
Public health down 25 percent: Budget cuts have threatened the ability of our public health agency to perform its core activities or fund even its most successful programs. For instance, our anti-smoking programs, which significantly reduced teen smoking rates during the ’90s, have been cut 90 percent.
Early education and care down 28 percent: Research increasingly demonstrates that early education helps prepare kids to succeed in school and life, yet these programs have been cut deeply. These cuts not only harm children, but also make it harder for low-income parents to work and support their families."
Education reform must go hand-in-hand with meaningful and equitable investments, and that means ensuring the state has the resources it needs to provide these vital services. It's even more important when you consider that the other possible providers, local communities, most often raise their funds through property taxes, which leaves low-income communities at an inherent disadvantage. If the state fails to provide the necessary funds for education, for example, you can bet inequity will be on the rise in our schools.