BOBBY HARRISON: Charters are removed from all taxpayers’ reach

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – In 1773, a group of American colonists tossed taxed tea into Boston Harbor because they had no say in electing the British governmental officials who imposed the tax.
They chose a significant act of civil disobedience that I assume could have landed them in prison.
We heard the phrase no taxation without representation in eighth grade American history. It is a catchy phrase and, no doubt, was a clarion call that helped spur the American Revolution and the United States of America.
The phrase is at the very core of our system of representative democracy. If we are dissatisfied, we have the right to vote out of office the people responsible for the operation of our government – ranging from schools, to public safety to the people who tax us and our tea – or our beer or even water.
In modern times, the phrase “no taxation without representation” has become one of the clarion calls of the Tea Party movement, though, a basic difference is that today we do have the right to vote for the people who impose the tax and make our laws.
While charter schools, as I understand them, will not have taxing authority, they will expend public funds without having to answer directly to the citizens who pay the tax.
Perhaps, that is a good thing. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps, in some instances, people believe the public schools are so bad that something dramatically different must be tried. But one thing is clear – charter schools are distinctly different than how our representative democracy normally works.
Under the normal scenario, we all pay local taxes – on property and cars – to support the community schools. People who do not own a home or a car, in essence, still would pay a tax toward the local schools if they rent.
Even people who do not have kids in the public school system pay the tax. It is safe to say that most parents do not pay enough in taxes to pay for the cost of educating their child or children. It, in essence, takes a community effort. Old people, including your humble scribe, who no longer have school-age children, pay the tax.
No. 1, we have to pay the tax, but hopefully we pay it because we value the importance of a good public school system to the community in which we live. A good school system helps improve a community in so many ways – from home values to the local economy.
If a person is not happy with the local school system, in most county school districts that person has the option to vote out of office the superintendent and school board member. A person can work to have other members of the board voted out. People who live in municipal separate school systems can vote to remove the city officials who appointed the board if they are dissatisfied with the school system.
Under legislation pending in the Senate to strengthen Mississippi’s charter school law, a group can petition a newly created state board to begin a charter school. If the charter school is in the district where I live, I have no control over the group that gets the charter to start the new school. It can be a group I support or a group that I do not like.
Once it is created, I have no say over the charter school. I can’t vote out of office the group that created the public school if I am unhappy with its operation. The group running the charter school also is not answerable to the local board.
Yet, if students in the school district where I reside go to the charter school, the taxes collected on my property and my cars will go to pay for those charter school students’ education.
And better yet, under the Senate bill, students who reside in the same school district as I do can go to a charter school that is outside of the district. My tax money will still follow that child.
Perhaps, it is not the same as having to pay a tax on tea without having a vote on the group that imposed the tax, but then again it is paying a tax without having a voice in how it is spent.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.