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Few persons have any idea of the extent to which the relative number of taxpayers1 and school population varies in different localities. In some parts of the Union there are three, four, and even five times as many taxpayers to the hundred children as in others. The bearing of this upon the ease or difficulty of raising funds for schools is obvious, and it may be said that this hitherto almost unnoticed circumstance serves in no small measure to account for the backward condition of public education in certain sections, especially in some States of the South. An inspection of column 8, Table 9, will make this apparent.
In the United States at large, on the average, there are 91.4 taxpayers to provide the means of education for each 100 children 5 to 18 years of age. In the South Central States, however, there are only 65.9 adult males to 100 children, while in the States of the western division there are 156.7.
Taking individual States, it will be seen that in South Carolina 100 children have only 55 adult males (three-fifths, or 33, of whom moreover are colored) to provide the means of education for them, while in Montana there are 274 adult males to educate an equal number of children. That is to say (assuming that wages, prices of material, etc., are identical in the two States), in order to duplicate the educational conditions of Montana, each individual taxpayer of South Carolina would be subject to pay, on the average, five times the amount the taxpayer of Montana is obliged to pay.
These are the extremes, but analogous conditions prevail, in a somewhat less degree, in the Southern States generally, as compared with the Northern.
Examining the actual amounts raised per taxpayer and per child of school age (columns 6 and 7), it will be seen that Montana raises $5.85 per taxpayer, which furnishes $16.02 for each child of school age; Texas, on the other hand, raises a larger sum per taxpayer ($6.55), but has as a result only $4.48 for each child of school age. In other words, each dollar paid in Montana goes as far in effective work in supporting the public schools as $4 in Texas.
Mississippi, after raising per taxpayer about half what Nevada does, has only about one-eighth as much as the latter State for each child of school age.
In the light of these facts, and considering in addition that a large proportion of the already comparatively few adults in the South are colored people with a minimum of property, it can not but be a matter of satisfaction that public education has made such progress in the South since the war as has actually been the case. Raising per taxpayer (counting in white and black alike) about one-half, and realizing from the proceeds from one-third to one-fifth of what the North has per child of school age, that section enrolls nearly as large a propor
The term "taxpayer" is understood here to be synonymous with adult male.
tion of its school population (Table 2, column 11), and has a school term about two-thirds as long as is held in the North (Table 4, column 8).
Beneficial results of a State tax.-Public schools are their own best recommendation. It has been the almost universal experience that where once established they have continually grown in the public esteem. When the children who have been educated mainly in Statesupported or State-prescribed schools become the fathers of a succeeding generation, they have a lively sense of the benefits that were conferred upon them by the public schools, and demand and voluntarily provide increased privileges for their own children. Thus State compulsion and support pave the way for local endeavor. In Massachusetts, a State whose people have so long felt the influences of public schools, 98 per cent of the ample school revenues are raised by what is essentially voluntary taxation. The remaining 2 per cent comes chiefly from a State fund so distributed as to assist the poorer towns and aid in equalizing the burden of taxation, this being the office of a State tax or fund in a well-established system.
State Superintendent Edwards, of Illinois, records a very instructive experience bearing upon this subject. "In 1855," he says, "to induce the districts to tax themselves at all the State offered a bounty of nearly $2 for every dollar thus voluntarily raised. In that year one county raised by taxation $1,737.04 and received by distribution $4,917.25. In this same county at the present time the total withdrawal of the State distribution would probably affect the school interest very little. In 1887 for every dollar distributed by the State the districts themselves, by voluntary election, raised a little more than $5.03. Measured by this standard may we not say that the popular interest in education, the real love of the free schools in the hearts of the people, increased tenfold in thirty-two years?"
Progress in local taxation in the South.-It can scarcely be doubted that the few Southern States which yet do not make any general provision for local taxation, or at most some provision which is practically inoperative, will change their policy in this respect in the near future, and will cease requiring communities to procure a special act of legislature to enable them to tax themselves for schools, as is now the case with several of them. The Alabama Educational Association in 1890 petitioned "for such amendment of our State constitution as will authorize any desired local taxation that will increase the efficiency of our common schools; provided that such taxes be voted upon only by taxpayers." Also State Superintendent Harris says in his 1891 report that "there is a growing indorsement of local taxation for public schools."
The North Carolina law contains certain provisions for voluntary local taxation, but they are "so restricted that they have not proved of any advantage. They should be amended so that it will be less
difficult to get to a vote," says State Superintendent Finger, "and so that a larger amount can be voted upon." In accordance with this: recommendation, the amount that could be voted was slightly increased by the legislature in 1891, but it is still small and the law clumsy in execution.
The South Carolina legislature enacted a general local tax law in 1888, which, though so cumbersome as to be of practically little value, yet indicates progress in public opinion upon the subject. The difficulties are of the same nature as with the North Carolina law; the trustees of school districts can act in the matter of levying a local tax only upon the petition of a majority of resident freeholders, and then must put the question to the vote of the property-owners. Only a few districts have taken advantage of this law. State Superintendent Rice in his 1891 report calls for a more practical law:
The act of 1888 should be amended and made more easily operative. There should be a general act authorizing and requiring the county commissioners of each county to submit the question, at each general election, to the qualified voters of the county, as to whether or not more than 2 mills shall be levied, etc.
As regards Texas, State Supt. Cooper reports (1890):
The law framed in pursuance of the constitutional amendment of 1883 authorizing local taxation, throws many obstacles in the way of the levy of local taxes, while the true spirit of the law should be to facilitate as far as possible such levy, even if it should not absolutely require it. The law, as it stands now on our statute books, is distinctly behind public sentiment in this State, and ought to be amended so as to allow the people to vote each year, in every school district which has not voted a tax, on the question of levying a tax until such tax shall be voted.
Realizing the necessity of general local taxation to the development of an efficient system of public schools, I have deemed it my duty during the past two years to use every means in my power to bring the question of levying a local school tax to the attention of local officers and others interested in the progress of public schools.
In spite of all the limitations of the constitution and the law and the obstruction thrown in the way of the levy of local taxes by the law as it stands, progress has been made in the levy of local school taxes. It is probable that the number of districts which have voted local taxes during the past twelve months is about double the number which had voted the tax prior to that time and subsequent to the adoption of the constitutional amendment of 1883. This is a remarkable record when the fact is considered that the obstructions to the levy of a local tax, resulting from errors in the laws on this subject, are in themselves sufficient to prevent most districts from making any effort; and it demonstrates the fact that a simple, sensible law providing for local taxation would be welcomed by the great body of the people of Texas.
A weak point in exclusively local taxation.-The extent to which local taxation is carried in Massachusetts (98 per cent of the school revenue being derived from local taxes) brings into special prominence the principal defect of this system of school support; i. e., the great inequality in the tax rate of the different towns. Thus in 1890-91 Boston, with a tax rate of less than 2 mills, was able to appropriate $21.92 for each child 5 to 15 years of age, while Colerain, with a tax rate of 5.4 mills, was able to appropriate only $7.71 per child. These inequalities (which are
nearly paralleled in other States) are glaring and have led those interested in the matter to introduce a bill into the legislature "to change the present system of support of the public schools so that the rate of school taxation shall be uniform throughout this State. This is to be done by including the amount necessary for schools in the State tax, and distributing it among the different towns in proportion to the number of public school children in such towns." [Journal of Education, March 10, 1892.
While the Southern States, therefore, are moving in the direction of voluntary local taxation, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania (see above), and other Northern States, zaving experienced the ills of too exclusively local taxation, are going in the opposite direction with the main purpose in view of equalizing the tax rate and helping the poorer communities out of a general State fund. An equilibrium between State and local taxation will finally be struck, and the most advantageous proportions of each determined by experience according to the necessities of each individual case. The object in view will be to utilize the benefits and reduce to a minimum the defects of each.
The tax rates of different States can not be compared with each other.On account of the great diversity in the bases of assessment of property in the different States, a comparison of tax rates does not furnish any indication as to how light or heavy a tax may be. In some States property is assessed at only about one-third of its real value, in others at two-thirds or more; and a tax rate of 2 mills on the dollar in one locality may be quite as severe as 4 mills in another. It has on a like ground not been deemed best to continue in these tables the comparison of the school expenditure with assessed valuation.
Expenditure per capita of population.
1870-1879- 1889-189071. 80. 90. 91.
$140,506,715 ($146,800,163 $1.75 $1.56 $2.21 $2.31
28, 538, 058
48, 023, 492
49, 006, 135 2.38 1.97 2.76
3,781, 581 4,854, 834 28, 430, 033
5, 130, 492
10, 678, 680
9, 276, 892 11, 571, 110
.63 .68 .99
35, 285, 635
62, 823, 563
64, 929, 946
2, 244, 329
4, 267, 673
8, 286, 062
8, 479, 918
1,873, 465 7,369, 682
2, 157, 014 17, 543, 880 3, 340, 190 12, 928, 422