Local Commentary

The Little City Weed


A wealthy community with excellent public schools wants to pay more taxes to continue to fund its schools.



A wealthy community with excellent public schools wants to pay more taxes to continue to fund its schools.  The state is trying to stop the town from raising its own taxes to fund education, arguing there should be parity in public school funding across the state – that having a public education system which allows wealthy local communities to raise taxes to provide more funding to their own schools creates economic disparity which threatens the entire state education system.  The state interest in public education, it seems, is mediocrity.

See Wall Street Journal.  Tax Complaint: Too Low, by Stephanie Simon, February 14, 2011.

It is a haunting argument, worthy of being elevated, which is connected to our own local budget discussions and to the public worker budget controversy bubbling over in Wisconsin.

The notion of statewide parity in public education has never occurred to Falls Church City.  Falls Church has the highest per capita income of any city in the country, the highest education level of any city in the country, allots more than half its revenue to its schools, and spends more than eighty percent of its school budget on salaries.

Falls Church has become a parody of a small wealthy community which has decided to turn its local public school system into what amounts to an exclusive private prep school.  In doing so, we have baked into our model of public education assumptions which are not universally accepted and which ought not go unchallenged.

Has the standard for public education become communities must spend more than half their budget on schools and more than eighty percent of their budget on salaries?  Has the standard for public education become obtaining national, even international, academic rankings?  Has the standard become each school system is expected to compete against its neighbors to recruit and retain the best teachers?   Has the standard become unfettered competition among individual jurisdictions for the most money, the most resources, perhaps even the best students, in order to win the race for … what exactly?  The highest return on investment on home values?

If so, does the escalation in the cost of public education, fostered by communities like Falls Church, have unintended negative consequences?

It is a shame students lack a voice in the debate.  The online kerfuffle this past week in Falls Church over an alleged drug dog incident and teacher disciplinary matter provided a brief, disturbing, glimpse at the student perspective on academic pressures, the 5.0 kids, and kids in special education programs.  It is  odd a community which has positioned itself as “existing only because of the schools” and invests so much of its community energy doing things “for the schools” (budgets, development, public safety) does such a second rate job of actually involving kids in the things it is, purportedly, doing for them.

Schools are indeed our crown jewel.  It is nice to take them out of the case and examine them every once in a while.


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.