Around California, public school teachers are on strike seeking more pay, better benefits and less competition from charter schools. They are also demanding that the rest of us pay higher taxes. Indeed, as part of the agreement that ended the strike in Los Angeles, teachers forced a concession out of the school district to officially support the partial repeal of Proposition 13 as it applies to business properties. That would have the effect of raising California property taxes as much as $11 billion annually and would surely accelerate the well-documented business flight out of California.
It’s not as though Californians are currently under-taxed. With the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax rate and second highest gas tax in America, it’s tough to make that argument.
So, I’m curious as to what would happen if, in reaction to the teachers’ strikes in L.A., Oakland and Sacramento, taxpayers decided to go on strike? The media seems obsessed with large, public demonstrations of crowds wracked with angst and victimhood. School districts lose millions of dollars when teachers go on strike because it impacts the Average Daily Attendance figures that provide the basis for disbursing tax dollars. But if taxpayers went on strike, how much more would they lose?
The reaction to a taxpayer strike would surely invoke claims that taxpayers are greedy, anti-education heathens. But, in reality, the vast majority of taxpayers are very much pro-education. They just don’t like the product they’re forced to pay for.
Let’s first dispel the urban legend that Proposition 13 “starved” education in the Golden State. True, in the years just prior to Proposition 13’s passage in 1978, California education ranked near or at the top nationally for quality. But California today is spending 30 percent more on a per-student inflation-adjusted basis than in the mid-’70s. Clearly, the problems in education today have nothing to do with the lack of money.
The problems with the education “product” with which taxpayers take issue are many. First, taxpayers, many of whom are parents, would like more choices. School vouchers or, at least, more charter schools, would help. The lack of competitive pressure renders many of our public schools as inefficient as the DMV. And, by the way, middle- and low-income taxpayers bristle when they see public school teachers sending their kids to private schools that they themselves can’t afford. (For example, 34 percent of public school teachers in San Francisco send their children to private schools).
Second, there is teacher compensation, which includes both pay and benefits. Even the National Education Association — hardly a right-wing think tank — pegs California educators as having the second highest pay in America. But high pay is not what torques taxpayers. It’s the fact you can’t pay better ones more money. Taxpayers would be willing to pay excellent teachers twice what they are making now in exchange for being able to fire the bad ones.
Third, taxpayers are disgusted with how public sector unions dominate everything about our schools. The California Teachers Association is famous for the tagline “because every child deserves a chance.” Really?
Teachers on strike in California treat taxpayers as if they are human ATM machines. But as with the aforementioned business community that is leaving the state, citizens taxpayers are leaving in droves as well.
For those who stay, serious thought needs to be given to being as loud and obnoxious as those currently on the picket line.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.