As educators, we are around a lot of bells and alarms - from school bells in the hall to school board meetings where parents sound the alarm on critical issues.
Lately, we see a lot of warning signs in the overall state of our schools. Chronic underfunding means we are not keeping up with maintenance in the way that’s needed. You can look around and see that too many children attend schools with leaking roofs, failing heating systems and outdated technology. This is a huge and growing problem given the importance of a strong education system to Montana’s economic future and the well-being of our children.
Most Montana taxpayers do their part to support our schools. But not everyone is pulling their weight. A new report released by the Montana Budget and Policy Center shows that over the last decade, the wealthy and big corporations have an unfair advantage in Montana’s tax structure.
According to the report, in 2003 the legislature passed a major tax cut that ended up benefitting the super wealthy and costing the state nearly a billion dollars in lost revenue. This money could have been used to fix Montana’s bridges, schools and roads, or for new investments in Montana’s future, such as early childhood education.
We know how much Montanans care about our schools. You can see it every day by how much parents care about the health of our schools and how many volunteers help out every year. We know that when we all work together, our schools and community to thrive.
At least two-thirds of Montana schools were built before 1970. If you own an older home, you know that it needs serious updates. Our schools do too. Many need new roofs, electrical systems, and heating and cooling systems.
Want to know exactly what that lost $1 billion would have funded? It could have covered the entire costs of deferred maintenance at every school in our state. Imagine that - every school would be updated.
Lawmakers spearheading the 2003 law said that these tax cuts would benefit everyone; however, it is clear now that the majority of Montana families saw little or no benefit. In 2006, workers earning between $20,000 and $65,000 received an average tax cut of just $23. Nearly one in five actually saw their taxes increase. That same year, households making more than $500,000 received an average tax cut of $30,500, which is about the median wage in Montana.
We are happy to support our schools and other state needs because we know that we all benefit when our communities thrive. We need to fix our tax system so we all pay our fair share – including the top 1 percent. We need to do more as a state to invest in our communities to fix our crumbling infrastructure, to provide an affordable college education, and support public education system to provide the 21st century learning experience our children need and deserve.
Rachel Schillreff is a librarian at West High School and both of her children attend public school in Billings. Jane Shawn is a National Board Certified first-grade teacher in Helena and serves on the Board of Directors of the Helena Education Association. Melanie A.B. Charlson has served 26 years with Missoula County Public SchoolS as a middle school and elementary teacher and is currently president of the Missoula Education Association. Her son is a recent graduate of Missoula County Public Schools and her daughter is a senior.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.