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I send my children to private school and my elderly neighbors have no children in school. When we look at our property tax bills, we notice that 50% of the money we pay goes to the local county schools.

Why are 50% of our property taxes being used to fund schools that we have no use for?

Are there any US counties or states that refund tax payers who either don't have kids or send their kids to private schools?


Update As of 7/6, I see six downvotes, and zero close reasons. This implies to me that a simple question has violated certain normative assumptions (e.g. "Everyone knows that if you don't pay to send less fortunate kids to school, you'll suffer X, Y, and Z, duh!"). I have Asperger's, so I'm used to this outcome. However, I'd still like to get an evidence-based answer to my question.

I would accept an answer which gave a historical account of how and why we got here. When did education start coming from property taxes? Where did this first take place in the US? Which arguments were given for and against this and why did the argument(s) for the current state of affairs end up prevailing?

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  • In the US schools are funded by the local county (something which to my knowledge no other wealthy democratic country does). Property taxes are one of the major taxes that go to the local counties. Hence a large part of property taxes are used to fund schools. But none of your income tax or the sales tax you pay goes to fund schools because these are paid to different levels of the government.
    – quarague
    Jun 4, 2022 at 20:07
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    If the only people paying taxes to fund county schools are the ones sending their kids there, wouldn't that effectively make them private schools? Jun 5, 2022 at 9:09
  • The simple answers: the US government and state governments provide SOME services on a cost-recovery basis, but not most. You could ask the same question about welfare, medical care, road maintenance, and so on. You could ask why rich people pay higher taxes for the same services as poor people who pay no taxes. This is a much bigger question than schools. Jun 5, 2022 at 17:00
  • @SteveMelnikoff yes, exactly. I’m trying to get to the WHY of school being a publicly funded institution.
    – blud
    Jun 5, 2022 at 19:10
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    It seems like the surprising number of downvotes has nothing to do with the quality of the well-worded question asked in good faith. Jun 6, 2022 at 0:20

4 Answers 4

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You pay not to live in a world in which nobody is educated.

If you think education costs a lot, try living in a world without it.

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Why are 50% of our property taxes being used to fund schools that we have no use for?

I think this assumption is a bit wrong, but assuming this is correct taxes are normally funding at least one thing that a random person has no use for. E.g. Libraries, roads, military, welfare, medicare, etc. Schools are not funded by federal income taxes (because the Federal government doesn't really control education, as that's the responsibility of the states). A percentage of them do have some adjustments from Title IX. Since not all states have income taxes, they have to be funded by a different tax, such as property tax. Funding by property and sales taxes makes sense since the tax revenue would scale with the population in the area. It would also make sense to note that many people (such as those living in apartments) don't pay property taxes (as that would be double taxation since they are taxing the property owner) so they get a benefit from wealthier people paying property taxes. After administrative costs, taxes are fundamentally wealth redistribution.

That said, the underlying assumption is wrong. Even if you don't use a road, you benefit from taxes paid to maintain the road (for example, trucks can deliver gasoline, food, and products to your area). Similarly, even if you don't use the school(s) that the taxes are funding, there is a benefit to you since uneducated people tend to have a negative income correlation. The total wealth of the area creates a benefit in the form of a more affluent and safe community. Not to mention the obvious benefit that no one likes to talk about: public schools function as a de facto daycare for children. I don't think you want to live in an area where a bunch of kids have a bunch of idle hands.

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    I'd add one more benefit to public schools that wasn't mentioned - public schools fund a baseline education foundation for the people who take your taxes from the government to build and maintain roads. Roads don't build themselves; people build them, and you'll want the people building them to know what they're doing when they do. Jun 5, 2022 at 3:08
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Let's just assume a strictly utilitarian viewpoint and not go into ethics or community at all.

What seems optimized for the individual may not, in fact, turn out to be optimal even for that individual in the long run.

Specifically, if you basically say "let only those who have children in them pay for schools" you may, in long term aggregate, strongly discourage people from having children.

That in turn may not be a great thing if your community or country lacks young workers or sees an ever-diminishing taxpayer base as people grow older.

The demographics of culturally and economically relatively similar countries in Western Europe, like France and Germany, shows that limited assistance to parents can become a long term problem.

And, as others have pointed out, ill-educated people are not a great boon to the taxpayer base either.

Depending on the context and issue, taking too narrow a view of economic interests may be end up self-defeating. Which is not at all to say that government spending is beneficial in all cases or that the needs of the community should always trump that of the individual. Only that big-L Libertarians often seem to get the balance wrong.

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That is not true that only a subset of residents use those schools. Everyone is expected to get an education in this country and some may chose to go to private schools or home schools. Because of the education that everyone receives more people are able to be productive in the workplace which lets them participate in the economy and put back into the system by paying taxes on their own. Overall we would be in a worse place if we did not have an educated population that was able to participate in the work force.

At some point in time everyone will be taking part in the education system directly or indirectly with children/dependents of some type.

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