"Meals Tax" in Fairfax and Who Pays for Public Education?

About 80 to 90 percent of public school funding in the US comes from state and local taxes. Based on the data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in fiscal year 2010, the federal government contributed about 12.5 percent, state governments accounted for 43.1 percent, and local governments 44.3 percent. No one can argue that public education benefits all of society, but the question of who pays more remains to be addressed. Taxes come in different flavors. Some are progressive - those who are wealthy pay a larger percentage of their income, while some are regressive - those who are poor shoulder a larger tax burden relative to their income. Taxes can likewise be discriminatory when it targets a particular company or industry.

Matthew Di Carlo in his article, "Who Pays for Education?", posted in the Shanker Institute blog, looks at school funding from the point of view of who carries a bigger burden relative to what they earn. His analysis, which is not surprising based on the fact that schools are largely funded by state and local taxes, shows that the poor are in fact giving more of their income to support public education.

Above copied from the Shanker Institute
Income taxes are usually progressive. Higher taxes are assigned to higher income brackets. On the other hand, sales taxes are regressive. Lower income families spend most of their money and each spending gets taxed. The wealthy can afford to save so a significant amount of their income is not affected by sales taxes.

Residents of Fairfax county will vote on Tuesday not only to choose the next president of the country, but to decide on whether the county should begin collecting a 4% meals tax. Seventy percent of the revenue from this proposed tax is intended for its public schools. InsideNoVa reports on the debate on this issue and notes that the talking points are so familiar.

  • Proponents: The extra money was essential to maintaining a top-quality school system.
  • Opponents: The tax is harmful to lower-income people and the restaurant industry.
No one can argue against maintaining a top-quality system. On the other side, although familiar, sadly, the argument that the tax is both regressive and discriminatory seems to fall on deaf ears.