The Seattle City Council yesterday voted to raise the "Families and Education Levy" ballot proposal from the $69 million that was approved in 1997 to $116 million. The levy funds, if approved, would go to a variety of social service programs that serve public school students and their families; These include after-school programs, school health services and counseling for at-risk students. I'm sure that some of these programs are worthy of community support. I give of my own time and money to a local after-school program and in much greater amounts than this levy would add to my property taxes.
But when the government asks for a tax increase I expect both the revenues and expenditures to be well justified, and I've yet to see a very good explanation for the significant increase in the levy amount. The levy is needed, the City explains,
because a significant number of students, mostly children of color and children from low-income families, are not performing at grade level and are dropping out of school.and
The levy focuses on children and youth who need the most academic help. Many immigrant and refugee children and youth are not doing well in school, in part because they donít speak EnglishIt's undeniable that many students are doing poorly in school, and School District resources have to be directed to address this. But we should be wary of the sweeping generalizations in the way the problem is framed. The theory that academic success is determined by parental income, skin color and native language (and not, say, by specific behaviors and attitudes that are independent of language, ethnicity and economics ) is a fine liberal mantra, but one that has a large number of counter-examples. Seattle School District statistics show, for example, that Vietnamese students have the highest rates of Limited-English status, and nearly the highest rates of poverty in the district, yet also graduate high school at higher rates and with better grades than white students.
But even taking the levy promoters' claims that the main focus of the levy should be on low-income, non-white and limited-English students, it's still hard to justify the massive growth in the levy. Even adjusted for inflation, the proposed increase is still a whopping 43%. During the same period, however, enrollment in Seattle public schools has declined by 1.5%. And the groups of students labelled "high risk": low-income, non-white and limited-English are all shrinking faster than overall enrollment. Here is a table I derived from Seattle School District "Data Profiles". You probably won't find anything like it from the City or in the major newspapers.
|Levy amount|| |
|Consumer Price Index (Seattle)|| |
|Levy amount adjusted for inflation|| |
|Enrollment in Seattle Public Schools|| |
|Number of Students eligible |
for Free/Reduced Lunch
|Number of Limited English Students|| |
|Number of "Students of Color"|| |
It's not like we have any proof that all the money we've already been spending actually does any good. The new levy proposal promises that success of every recipient program must be measured, but this doesn't seem to have been the case for earlier levy grants. It's good that we recognize the need for accountability and measurement, but why increase funding before we have any performance measures?
The people who want me to vote for this levy have a lot more questions to answer and explanations to offer before they earn my vote.Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at July 09, 2004 12:10 PM