States, towns and cities throughout the country, have resisted allocating sufficient resources to public education for decades. To avoid a demand for public investment in our schools, we were convinced that more accountability could replace spending. We were told that money is not the answer — and so began this era of high-stakes testing.
Since the 1960s, corporate tax rates have dropped. As a result, there are fewer public dollars to invest in infrastructure, public support systems, and education. At the same time, needs increased as have the expectations we place on our schools. Today in Richmond, we are left with a school system where 40% of our students live in poverty, we lack essential staff, the staff we have don’t see raises for several years and then some, and buildings are in decay.
The tests haven’t helped us.
In this reality, I have been energized by the rise of teachers and parents that are demanding more. Here in Richmond, 85% of city voters agreed that we should put schools first. This is an incredible moment. I am thankful that we are talking as a city about what more we can do. These are difficult conversations that need to be had.
So this week, when our superintendent proposed increasing city property taxes, I was torn. I do believe that this money would be put to good use, and I hope that those who can afford it support the idea.
But when I decided to run for this office, I vowed to make decisions that were based on the collective needs of our city. I support progressive taxation, meaning that those who earn more bear more responsibility to support our shared needs. Unfortunately, in our city, a property tax is not progressive. While there is a relationship between home values and income for those who have purchased a house in the last decade or so — for those that have been here longer, the correlation is skewed. Longtime city residents have seen dramatic upward swings in their property value. There are many blocks where neighbors have similar home values, but their income is quite different.
On top of this, as The New York Times highlighted, Richmond has one of the highest eviction rates in our country. As rents rise, our residents can’t keep up. If we do not commit to ensuring that Richmond’s residents can afford to stay here, we will lose the rich diversity that makes this city great. Before we can consider a property tax increase, we have work to do to ensure that the tax system we have in place allows long time residents to remain in their homes. This is not a simple task.
In the meantime, we cannot wait to demand that public education is funded. In the next city budget, there will be more local dollars on the table due to the increase in assessments, and those dollars should go to schools. We must push during general assembly for more state education funding. And we should demand that local corporations pay their fair share.
Last but not least, we should show up at the polls to elect leaders that put people before corporations and will fight for the common good. There are 18 days until the election. Let’s do this.