Property Taxes and Education: Saving Prince William County Schools from being Inherently Inequitable

Updated: May 27, 2021

By Jordan Gilliard, CEI Intern 


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This is the first of a series of articles on inequities in education. In this article Jordan Gilliard addresses funding concerns in one school district in VA. As Ms. Gilliard says in her closing paragraph, “across the country, students of color are receiving a poorer quality than their white counterparts...we can shape the conversation now.” Christine Mason

What is fair and equitable? Education is normally seen as a state or local political issue, but as a nation, we must pay attention to how each state’s policies affect our children across the country and mold the future of this nation. The long-held tradition of property taxes as a source of education funding is playing a dominant role in racial and educational inequity. Rejecting this truth and refusing to have a change-oriented discussion is the acceptance of institutional racism. For my fellow citizens of Virginia’s Prince William County (PWC), this issue could be nearing our front door. There have been discussions about splitting the county into two, which could exacerbate the classroom’s existing racial inequalities because of the property-based tax (Turner et al., 2016). We must prevent that reality by advocating for greater equity in our county’s education funding system. If we continue relying on property taxes as its major source of funding, we further racial disparities in our cities and deprive most minority children of a quality education. Every locality and state should find a more equitable system.

Here are some essential facts that illustrate the present state of inequality that PWC needs to carefully consider:

  1. 72% of black students and 68% of Hispanic/Latino students in America attend school while their families live below the federal poverty line (Separate and Unequal, n.d.).

  2. Decades of racial segregation have kept minorities from attaining wealth and high-value housing in white neighborhoods. This has created a significant imbalance, considering how increased school funding correlates with more educational luxuries such as small class sizes or high-functioning science laboratories (Darling-Hammond, 1998).

  3. Research demonstrates that increased spending per-student leads to increased positive outcomes, such as higher test scores and graduation rates (Does Money Matter, n.d.).


TotalCountyRevenueSource

FY16 Total County Revenue Sources


Why divide the county? Our Prince William County is surely not exempt. For unclear reasons, the question of whether to split PWC arose on a local news article this past June (Alborn, 2016). Every resident in PWC has observed that the West has more expensive housing and is predominantly white while the East has a more ethnic diversity and lower property values. If the county splits East-West, the poorer eastern side suffers in their funding because most of the property tax revenue is concentrated in the West. Therefore, the division would leave the West with a disproportionate amount of education funding and the East with a funding vacuum.

Looking at the 2016 PWC Budget Plan, the county has distributed 57.23% of general revenues to “the Schools” (FY 2016 Budget, n.d.). The figures show that all school funding depends on the revenue brought in by the county. If the county divides, we deserve to know, as citizens, how much revenue the eastern side of the county would lose and how it alters the education quality. Obvious winners from this fracture would include the predominantly white population on the West while the losers would be the more economically and racially diverse communities in the East. If the split is in our future, the education funding system must be reformed to reduce inequalities.  


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  1. Massachusetts’s Chapter 70 Formula ensures a certain amount of funding for each district while devaluing the role of the property tax. 

  2. Hawaii’s Weighted Student Formula uses a committee that reviews the yearly impact of the funding system and provides recommendations to improve the formula.

Across the country, we see that students of color are receiving a poorer quality of education than their white counterparts. As citizens of PWC, we should feel moved to eradicate this trend in our district. We need to communicate to our local politicians that, we refuse to accept any county fracture that worsens the racial disparities in our

schools. The decision is not going to happen for a while, but we can shape the conversation now.

References

Alborn, A. (2016, June 30). Around Prince William: Should the county be split in two? Inside Nova.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1998, March 28)  Unequal opportunity: Race and education. Brookings Institution.

Demystifying the chapter 70 formula: How the Massachusetts education funding system works. (2010, December 7). Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. FY2016 Budget citizen guide. (n.d.). Prince William County Virginia Office of Management and Budget.

Hawaii DOE | Weighted student formula. (n.d.). Hawaii State Department of Education.

Separate and unequal: School funding in ‘˜Post-Racial’ America. (n.d.). Top Masters in Education.

Turner,C.  et. al. (2016), April 18) Why America’s Schools Have a Money Problem . NPR Morning Edition.