Over the past couple of months, I have become more active
locally by way of the elementary school my children attend. I have found in my
fellow parents and community members a passion similar to mine for preserving
the character and commitment that our school embodies and elicits of its
students, faculty, parents and neighbors.
In this (relatively) small school, we find a diverse group of students from a wide range of economic and ethnic backgrounds. Working hard everyday to educate those students, we see a dedicated group of professionals whose mission is to insure that they prepare their charges to the maximum extent they can for the challenges that will confront them as they move on to bigger – and hopefully better - things.
The students, parents and faculty all benefit and contribute to varying degrees from the efforts of one another. Together, though, these disparate parts comprise a body that is strong and getting stronger. The reason? Because those who can help do. Even in cases where their contribution is clearly far outweighing their benefits. You see this behavior from faculty, from parents and even from many students. They help each other – frequently without regard to personal benefit – not because they expect something or feel they are owed it. They help because they recognize that that is what neighbors and citizens do for each other. They make sacrifices and personal commitments that often outweigh personal benefit.
To sit back and proclaim “I get no reward, why should I provide effort” or “I did my service, now it’s my turn” is the very nature of the so-called “entitlement mentality” that so many in this country have come to abhor. The notion that you’re owed something – whether due to some effort you’ve made in the past, or due to some injustice you feel you’ve been subjected to – is antithetical to the American spirit. In fact, it is in many respects directly at odds with the founding principles of our country.
People have jokingly asked me why I don’t run for Cobb County School Board. I usually demur, thanking them for even thinking something like that. But I can’t run even if I wanted to – because I wouldn’t run a race I couldn’t foreseeably win.
In Cobb County we have a group of citizens who feel that they’ve no responsibility to provide for the needs of their fellow citizens. This is not a case of people who are doing nothing and expecting a handout. In fact, this is a case where one group of citizens is in fact reaping significant rewards, yet steadfastly refusing to provide contribution for what they are getting. These individuals embody the very essence of entitlement. These individuals realize higher home values, greater general fund revenues and more opportunities by living in Cobb County than they would receive elsewhere. One of the primary reasons they see these benefits is because of the strong foundation of educational excellence that Cobb County has established.
But today, that reputation is in danger. The schools are underfunded, test scores are falling and the county often fails to make the top 10 list for schools in nearly any searchable ranking list. Cobb County has the 5th highest median household income and is ranked 82nd in per pupil spending. It is true that we do a lot with a little - but we could likely do a lot more with even a little more.
In good times, the SAT scores were rising, the schools were well funded and nobody cared that nearly 20% - one of every five - of the residents in the county paid no taxes to support the schools. Now, when things are bad, people are scrambling and looking for answers. Some board members have proposed special sales taxes, SPLOST bills keep coming up, other remedies are suggested, but one thing - one group - is always off limits.
No one dares touch the third rail of the over-62 exemption.
Why? It is an entitlement program and everyone these days seems uniformly opposed to entitlements. Yet, this entitlement in particular is sacrosanct.
I want to make it abundantly clear that I mean no disrespect for those over 62. In most cases they’ve performed services of inestimable value for our community and our country and I have great respect for them. But, their insistence that they should be exempt from paying school taxes is illogical and unfair. No defense they can raise stands up to even the most timid of assaults. This is not a matter of respect, it is an issue of a logical and reasonable interpretation of the notion of fairness.
Those over 62 realize property values that are higher because of the schools. Their community is better off because young
people with children choose to live around them and bring with them jobs and
services. Good schools contribute to lower crime, greater local incomes, more
community services, etc. etc. etc All of these benefits are well documented and
all of these are benefits they derive without paying – protesting that “they
don’t have school age children, so why should they pay?”
If you don’t own a car, should you not pay for the roads? Of course you should – because you still derive benefit from the very fact that roads exist. Roads provide prosperity. Schools are like roads. They give children a means to get from point A (kindergarten) to point b (meaningful, contributory citizenship). Those who oppose paying for schools are opposed to paying for progress and prosperity. They have their prosperity, why should they help to provide for anyone else’s?
So, I can’t run for Cobb County School Board or any other office. I can’t run because opposition to this tax exemption would be the first bullet point on my platform and that opposition would insure my defeat – a defeat that would waste the money and time of those who could help me in my campaign.
Most of all, I can’t run because those who benefit the most from this entitlement are also those who vote the most. Meanwhile, those of us with children who pay taxes, those with no children who still pay taxes, and those who work hard to educate our children – we will continue to provide this entitlement to those who do none of the above.