CALDARE | Ensuring Educational Results for Tax Increases | Opinion
It’s that moment again: the derogation period for factory samples.
Isn’t it amazing, just amazing that the warring Douglas County School Board can’t agree on anything but a tiny little thing. They all want more money.
So like many of our 178 school districts, they’re reaching out to voters to increase the mill levy, you know, for kids.
Unfortunately, raising property taxes without measurable guarantees and performance incentives is a recipe for disaster, rewards failure, and is a big reason our state‘s test scores stink.
A bond is just a loan that taxpayers can repay. Luckily, thanks to our Taxpayer Bill of Rights, we can vote on it, which means the school district has to sell us the idea.
They promise that our children will learn more, their test scores will increase, the dropout rate will decrease, fewer children will be hurt in school, fewer crimes will be committed.
Like a boy in the back seat of a car, they’ll tell us anything we want to hear to get us to say yes.
Compare school bonds with a construction loan. You are going to build a new office building and you get a million dollar loan. But you don’t get a million dollars all at once. You get it in increments as different parts of the project are completed.
First you get the money to do the excavation. Once you show it’s done, the bank releases the money to build the foundation. Once that’s done, they release the money to build the framework of the building, and so on.
Why do banks do this? To protect himself. The lender does not want to be held responsible for an asset that does not exist. The builder must prove step by step that he is delivering what he promised.
Steve Schuck, developer and philanthropist in Colorado Springs, has lived with this reality throughout his career as a builder. For years, he has been trying to convince the world of education to live by the same rules.
His idea is ridiculously simple and straightforward: taxpayers should shoot down any factory tax waiver unless there is a measurable educational outcome attached to it.
We are told that taxes are raised so that children can learn better. Well, if that’s really the case, the money can be released when certain education milestones are met.
Let’s say a quarter of the total bail amount is released upfront so the school district can start doing the promised work.
Then, when certain benchmarks are met, such as district test scores improving to a certain level on a certain date, the next tranche of money is released. Perhaps when drop rates are reduced to an agreed amount, the next tranche is released.
Pledges can be structured as the district wishes, but there must be measured improvement by a specific date to get the rest of the dough.
The bank backing the loan for the office building has a built-in incentive to release money this way: it’s their tuchu that’s at stake. Bond dealers don’t. The taxpayers are going to pay them no matter what.
You see the problem here. The guy getting the loan, the school district, certainly doesn’t want to guarantee the results and the guy giving the loan doesn’t care, his “customer” doesn’t pay back the loan — captive taxpayers are.
No wonder Steve Schuck couldn’t sell this simple and powerful idea.
The bad guy is not the school district. They just want more money – they always have it, they always will.
The villain is not the bond merchant. They are soulless – they always have been, they always will be.
So who are the bad guys? Who should we blame for the catastrophic state test results? It rests at the feet of the “education booster class” who advocate higher taxes with no guaranteed results.
Community leaders, the PTA, chambers of commerce, newspaper editorial boards and other influencers, if they really care about children, should be the ones to withhold their support unless the link is tied to results .
And imagine how easy it would be for boosters to sell the bond to their community with performance guarantees.
Until school districts are ready to put any guarantees on student outcomes, there should be no more factory checks in Colorado.
Unless of course we don’t really care about children.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute of Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears on Sundays in Colorado Politics.