Equal Funding for Public Education

The excellent front-page article "In Many States, Lawsuits Contest the Fairness of School Funding," March 23, points out an interesting national dilemma, but Alan Hickrod's solution to shift costs from property taxes to general taxes is flawed. It is true that the tax on property has been the traditional source of school funding, and that equalization lawsuits have shifted funding to state sales and income taxes.

However, those remedies resolve the equalization problem by shifting the costs away from local property taxes to equalized state revenues. This sounds good, but it makes funding education more sensitive to fluctuating economic conditions; when the economy declines, education suffers - look at California. Local property taxes provide a cushion against the rise and fall of the economy and maintain a stable charge for the operation of schools.

Education is a state responsibility under the Constitution, and one may say that the differences are a function of each state's economy. Economic indicators, however, do not fully support that view. Currently, a child in one of the top expenditure states gets an education nearly twice as expensive as a child living in a low-expenditure state. The main differences in these states is class size, which is the way teachers' salaries are kept competitive.

The simplistic conclusion that Dr. Hickrod proposes is as flawed as the problem he is trying to solve. If equity in education is correct within a state, why then not have national equity? John De Beck, San Diego Board Member, San Diego City Schools

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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