Agriculture Secretary Hank Heinz

19 May 2004

NEA Calls For Higher Spending on Food
by Craig J. Cantoni
May 19, 2004

The National Eating Association (NEA) concludes in a new report that American families are not spending enough on food and that the United States will not remain competitive in the 21st century unless the government increases per-person spending on groceries and restaurant meals.

NEA president Frank Furter had lunch at the White House yesterday to discuss the problem with President Kerry, who spoke to reporters afterwards. ”It’s a national disgrace that Americans are spending only 15 percent of their income on food, including ketchup, compared to 45 percent 100 years ago,” said Kerry. ”I’ll be asking Agriculture Secretary Hank Heinz to speed up the implementation of the Leave No Child’s Behind Behind program.”

Silly, isn’t it? But it is no more silly than the National Education Association’s unrelenting focus on per-pupil spending and its complete silence about what a public education costs the average household. Without knowing the cost, it is impossible for consumers of education to know if they are getting good value for their money and to make cost-benefit tradeoffs.

Over the last few months I have been asking audiences and individuals if they know what they pay in public education taxes. So far, no one has known.

I’ll give the answer momentarily, but first, imagine asking a homeowner what he paid for his house and getting this response: ”I dunno, but I want to pay more because the National Association of Realtors says that spending on homes isn’t high enough in this country.”

Some people mistakenly believe that the amount on their property tax bill that goes to public education is the total of what they pay in school taxes. Because it’s hidden, they don’t realize that when they pay for their dry cleaning at the neighborhood dry cleaners, the price includes a portion of the school tax that the store owner pays. Similarly, the portion of school taxes that is funded from state revenue is hidden in income and sales taxes.

It is just the opposite for parochial school parents like my wife and me. We know exactly what we pay. For example, we pay $3,700 a year in parochial school tuition for our son. By the time he graduates from high school, we will have paid about $60,000 for 12 years of Catholic school.

Because we know what we pay, we are able to make cost-benefit tradeoffs. For example, we don’t want his school to build a cafeteria, although our kid has to take his lunch and eat outside. And we don’t want class sizes reduced by 50 percent to the size of the classes at the nearby public school. Because we know what we pay, we value his education more than if we didn’t. And because we value it more, we and other parochial parents expect our kids to behave better and study more than their public school friends.

That expectation is the primary reason that parochial schools can deliver a superior education at lower cost. Public schools, on the other hand, suffer from the problem of the commons. As is the case with public housing, when the collective pays for something, the individual doesn’t have the same sense of ownership and personal responsibility that he would if he paid for it himself. Like magic, writing a mortgage check or a tuition check every month dramatically changes one’s perspective on spending and makes the individual much more cost-conscious.

For that reason, the NEA and its allies in the establishment media do not want Arizonans to know that the average Arizona household pays about $3,200 per year in public school taxes. And since the heads of the household pay school taxes over their adult lives, that comes, on average, to a whopping lifetime total of about $190,000. For a family with two kids, that’s $95,000 per kid, or about $35,000 more than what it will cost my wife and me for our son to attend 12 years of Catholic school.

The total is higher in other states. In Washington State, for example, it is about $240,000. Would Washington State families pay that much if they were writing tuition checks to cover the amount? To answer that question, imagine the parents of one child writing a check for each of the 12 years that their kid attends public school. That would come to $20,000 per check ($240,000/12). If that didn’t trigger rioting in the streets, at least there would be demands for greater efficiency and effectiveness in public schools and more parental responsibility.

And that explains why politicians, the media, the NEA and the rest of the education establishment focus on per-pupil spending instead of telling taxpayers what they pay in public school taxes.

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Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (HAALT). He can be reached at ccan2@aol.com

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