Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Sharing the Responsibility: Should Senior Citizens be Exempt from Funding Education?

By on December 4, 2011

I work in a Title I school district some 15 minutes away from home. I live in a school district, however, that is ranked in the top 4% of those in my state. Our state assessment scores rank 125 points higher than the “target for excellence.” Over 90% of our graduates in our local high school go on to college or other post-secondary training.

It is a community defined by our schools, our parks, our weekend activities spent watching AYSO and Little League. Every newsletter is highlighted by the activities available for families and for students. Every day, my kindergartner is sent home with information from the cottage industry of after school tutoring, Lego clubs, sports leagues, and more. The school choir sings at the local tree lighting. The high school band has marched in the Rose Parade more often than any other band in the country. It’s Norman Rockwell in a 21st Century world. In others words, our community, as with many communities in this country, is tied to our schools.

But this post isn’t about what I love about our area. It is, in fact, about a disappointment.

I recently received an informational brochure through the mail slot that gave an overview of an initiative that the school board is trying to pass as a funding measure to get on our local ballot. Fine by me. The goal is to educate people about Sacramento’s funding cuts and how they are chipping away at our schools. No problem there. They are seeking to “create a stable funding source that cannot be taken away” by the ebb and flow of cuts. Got it. I’m with them so far.

Here’s where they lose me:

“Senior citizen homeowners, aged 65 or older, can receive an exemption.”

Look, I’ve heard this before. The older generations in this country have raised their kids, and they no longer have a stake in our schools, so why should they continue to help pay for them?  This possibility of exemption is seen as a selling point for this measure, but I see it as a sadness in an increasing trend.

It’s simple. As the superintendent says, “we all benefit from living in a community with great schools….quality schools make [our district] a desirable place to live and creates demands for our homes. This keeps our property values strong, which is more important than ever.”

We are entering a very interesting time in this country as our citizens age and the next generation statistically will not be as well off as the one that preceded it. Since we all benefit from our schools, can we afford to exempt a growing population in this country from being held responsible for helping to support the students of this country?

Even printing the possibility of exemption sends a message that if it doesn’t apply to you, it is something you can overlook. Yet our schools do apply to us all. We can’t just hold the young parents of our students accountable for funding our school system. It is a responsibility of us all. Our public schools help neighborhoods to flourish. They help us all retain our sense of community, a sense that we all want as adults and one that begins at childhood with the sense of security, community, and neighborliness that is found in places like church, temple, and school.

How can we fund our educational system with only the aid of the generation that is currently using its classrooms? What message does that send to our students?

It sends the message that once a student leaves school that person can walk away from schooling and societal responsibility. It send a message that you can allow the current generation to fend for itself, but still expect that the community in which you live will be maintained without your aid.

If people live in a community, enjoy the benefits of that community, go to restaurants, events, break bread in that community, can they ignore the responsibility for helping to maintain that community? What will allowing an entire generation of citizens to opt out of educational funding do to our schools? That Norman Rockwell image would be a mere echo in this community were it not for our schools.

Does responsibility end at a certain age?

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