In my Florida neighborhood, school is back in session. And even though my own children are grown and gone, and I no longer have to shoehorn them out of the house every morning, I know this is so for the following reasons:
First: I live across the street from a middle and elementary school complex. So it doesn’t take a genius to realize that school is now open because every morning there is a lot more noise right outside my front door than there was a week ago, coming from a lot more children go to and fro. Also, there’s a lot more cars and SUVs dropping those children off in the morning – in fact, there’s so much traffic lately that I sometimes have trouble backing out of my own driveway, which can be mildly annoying.
Second: My wife is an elementary school teacher. I’m fairly certain that she must be back at work, because she doesn’t seem to be around the house much, these days, and she’s not the sort of person who just takes off for points unknown for secretive or nefarious reasons.
Third: I just received my NOTICE OF PROPOSED PROPERTY TAXES AND PROPOSED OR ADOPTED NON-AD VALOREM ASSESSMENTS from my local county’s taxing authority. It’s not a bill. I know this because it tells me in BOLD LETTERS on the top right: DO NOT PAY – THIS IS NOT A BILL. Rather, it’s a statement that informs me what my real estate taxes were last year, what they will be if no budget changes are made, and what I should expect to pay this year if any proposed budget changes are made. The first column on page one informs me what Florida is charging me for the state’s public school system, and the second column tells me what my local school board is assessing me on top of what I owe the state. It’s a lot – regardless of whether the budget changes are made or not.
But, really, I’m not opposed to paying my taxes to support the public schools – even though my own kids no longer attend. U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said that “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” So, I’m happy to play my part and move civilization along by helping to educate the next generation – a cohort that one day is going to have to be smart enough to clean up all the various messes that their parents have left behind. And, in truth, my tax bill is just a drop in the $585 billion bucket that is the annual expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in America – which, when you think about it, makes public education just about one of the biggest businesses in the land.
Just how big is our nation’s public education system? Well, in addition to the two public schools across the street from me, there are close to 98,300 other public schools in America in approximately 13,500 school districts. Together, they employ about 3.1 million teachers, plus an equal number of non-teaching staff members, who, every day of the school year, are responsible for over 50 million students in every corner of the country.
Indeed, when we interview representatives of cities throughout the U.S., and whose profiles often appear in these pages, we are never surprised to hear that the local school system is a major employer of their citizens; which means that not only do our school taxes help educate children, they also provide jobs and livelihoods for over six million dedicated and caring professional teachers, administrators, aides, custodians, cooks, bus drivers, and other support personnel. So, while one doesn’t usually think of public education as a business, per se, it can’t be denied that its economic influence in our society is enormous and deeply felt.
So, apart from the traffic, I’m glad that school is back in session and I’m glad that I have both a personal and societal stake in the continuing existence of the American public school system. It not only has educated me and my entire family for generations, it is truly the bedrock of our “civilized society.”
And on top of that, it also pays my wife. Assuming, of course, that school is where she’s actually going every day.
Written by Al Krulick, Editor in Chief, Business View Magazine