BOBBY HARRISON: Despite funding increases, Mississippi sits at bottom

BOBBY HARRISON

When recently questioning freshman Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, one of the Legislature’s most ardent supporters of school choice, he corrected me when I said the money going to the private schools under his voucher legislation was “public money.”

He said, instead, it was “the taxpayer’s money.”

I did not at the time, and still do not, understand the distinction.

Public money is the taxpayers’ money and the taxpayers are the public. But I would make the distinction that the public money is not any one taxpayer’s money.

The taxpayers as a whole make up the public. In our representative democracy, normally not any one taxpayer gets to decide how his or her taxes are spent. Instead, we get to vote for people who make that decision.

And, of course, that is where Bomgar, who coincidentally is my state House member and a neighbor, and the rest of the members of the Mississippi Legislature play the critical role in deciding how public funds in this state are spent.

Apparently, some members of the Mississippi Legislature, especially the House leaders, believe at least a certain group of taxpayers should be able to take their taxes and use them at the school of their choosing, including any private school in the state.

Their thinking is that public schools are not meeting the needs of all children. So, at least some of the parents of those children, should have the right to take the money that would go toward their children’s education and educate their children at a private school or even use the money for a tutor or for online education material for home schooling purposes.

If the average expenditure in the state’s public schools is $5,000, an amount akin to that amount should follow the child to a school of the parents’ choosing.

Perhaps, that makes sense.

But perhaps it should be pointed out that the average amount per child is just that – an average. If the average is $5,000, some children take much less than that to educate. Others cost much more.

I am old. My children are out of school. Without naming the guilty, I had at least one child who was a bit of a holy terror and, no doubt, cost more than the average. But I had at last one child who was a little angel, I am proud to say, and no doubt, cost much less than the average to educate.

Plus, as I already stated, I am old with no children any longer in the public school system. Yet, I still pay taxes to support those schools. I am not paying for any one particular child. My taxes go for the betterment of the school system that enhances the community in which I reside.

If my pro rata share of my taxes is leaving the local school,  it is no longer going for the betterment of the community in which I live.

Heck, carrying the voucher mentality to its logical conclusion, a person who liked the library system one county over could send his or her taxes to that library system and start checking out books there.

Or as I once wrote, I might want to take my pro rata share of taxes to the local book store or to Cracker Barrel that sells books on tape and check out an audio book while getting some biscuits and gravy.

After all, I am a taxpayer, and I do like biscuits and gravy.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 946-9931.

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