“I bought a lottery ticket to support education!” is the last comment some teachers want to hear. It can make us so mad we want to heave back a blackboard eraser at them (the eraser being the total benefits a school may get from such taxes). Fortunately, Kansas is not a state that dedicates the proceeds to just education but sends gambling revenues to the general fund that underwrites everything. However, K-12 schooling still is half of that “everything” and gambling revenues are dropping dramatically.
That is surprising. Gambling is generally a tax on the “mathematically challenged”—the chances of “winning big” being the chance of being hit by lightning...twice. Nevertheless, money from the lottery and other gambling is dropping off in tough economic times when there may be no discretionary money left after we buy food, fuel, and medicine.
And don’t leave out cigarettes and alcohol. For some reason, legislators who take a “no new taxes” stance are not as hesitant to increase taxes on gambling, tobacco and booze. “Sin taxes,” being perceived as a good way to discourage these behaviors and compensate for increased medical costs, seem to be an exception to the “no new taxes” pledge.
We are now discovering that if the smoking or gambling decreases, so do the tax revenues.
Kansas is fortunate in not having tied gambling revenue directly to education funding. In states that do, legislators often take the attitude that since education is benefitting from that cash stream, they can trim the contribution to education from general taxes even further.
The bottomline is: if something is worth funding, whether education or health care, it is worth funding directly. It should not be tied to sin taxes on behaviors that could easily change.
But the worst sin tax of all is one that an average taxpayer has no choice in paying: the federal tax money spent for No Child Left Behind. It is a sin tax because of the addiction and extortion involved in distributing it, and the terrible educational devastation NCLB is causing.
Since education is not in the U.S Constitution, it is a “state’s right.” The only mechanism the Feds have to impose educational policy is to tie it to federal grants for free school lunches and other programs. States have become so addicted to this federal money that they have relinquished most of their educational jurisdiction.
Washington essentially holds each state hostage. No state wants to give up “their fair share” to reclaim their education independence. Nebraska would forfeit $70 million. Kansas would not get its $150 million each year. Texas would lose a cool billion. In these hard economic times, no state can afford to get out of this federal extortion.
Meanwhile, our best veteran teachers take early retirement. More high-performing college students choose any field but teaching. Average and good K-12 students languish while school resources are shifted to the impossible task of getting all low-performers up to minimal proficiency by 2014. And schools slowly turn into test-preparation prisons. These are truly “sins” that harm future generations. They make smoking and gambling look trivial.
As individuals, we can stop smoking. We can stop gambling. But we can’t stop paying taxes. This is one “sin” that we can completely lay on the shoulders of our elected representatives in Washington.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.