Who Picks Up the Tab for Less School Days?
It doesn’t make financial sense to have your children out of school, ever. In the old days, kids worked on the farm over “summer break.” The old school bell tower was silent while those strapping children got a late summer tan, helping their parents with the harvest.
Those days are, clearly, long gone. Instead of farming real world crops, kids are more likely to be playing Farmville, or Clash of Clans, or any other mindless digital pursuits. Yet summer break persists. Worse, thanks to state budget shortfalls, the school year is actually getting shorter. The average number of school days in CA is 175. It was reduced by 5 days across the board back in 2009. This is actually inline with the federal average of 180 days – an average that puts US schools towards the top of the list internationally for hours of school (see chart below). However, this count treats all hours of school equally, without differentiating between recess and instruction time. It also doesn’t count some of the “cram” intensive sessions that are common in some countries.
When kids aren’t at school, they cost money. They need to be watched or entertained or played with so they don’t get crabby and fight. The financial calculus of “let kids go to school so parents can earn a living” clearly makes sense on every school day of the year. It makes so much sense, that it almost makes you think the founders of our educational system masterminded the greatest daycare scheme ever. Of course there is a possibility they were actually trying to cultivate young minds. In any case, the two go hand in hand.
When kids are out of school too long, they languish. They’re on their iPhones, or they need something (hungry, bored, want an app, fighting (if there’s more than one), doing something they’re not supposed to like cussing or playing with knives. If you want to see the effect of this on parents, just watch this guy impersonate an overworked southern mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bD2f7Wx9Xc
There are clearly costs to parents of kids not being in school, but what about people without kids? CA schools are funded by general fund revenues which include sales tax, corporate tax and personal income tax. These revenues have been bolstered by Prop 30 and a higher tax rate on the wealthy, but that extra tax begins to phase out in 2016. Corporations and non-family shoppers and residents in CA are therefore picking up the tab for school days. That does not sound unreasonable given that corporations are investing in a potential local workforce and that people who have chosen to focus on income and not children should nevertheless invest in the future of humanity.
A new funding source is needed. The most apparent two options include extending Prop 30 or reforming the sales tax so that it applies to services as well. (Toady, sales taxes only apply to goods, not services like that weekly mani/pedi or your financial advisor). Extending Prop 30 is both easier politically (everyone loves taxing the rich, that’s why it passed in the first place!) and more volatile (another economic downturn and revenues would evaporate).
Comprehensive sales tax reform is long past due and some CA legislatures, led by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg are finally trying to get it done.
We might need to accept that we need both. Just think of it as a once a year bargain price on a year’s worth of childcare. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s increase the number of days of school per year and make school year round. America doesn’t need to put its kids out to pasture this way.