No kids in public school? You still benefit

Quality public schools benefit everyone – including those without school-aged children – and therefore everyone should play a role in maintaining them, according to a study by two Michigan State University scholars.

Senior citizens and others who don't have children in school often argue they should be exempt from paying school taxes because they don't benefit from the schools. But that's not true, argues Zachary Neal, sociologist and lead researcher on the study, which appears in the Journal of Urban Affairs.

"Those without kids in school are getting just as much benefit from public schools as those with kids and accordingly should be just as responsible for maintaining the schools," Neal said. "It's unfair for those without kids to benefit from public schools but not play a role in taking care of the schools."

While many communities offer various school-tax exemptions, those who don't have children in school routinely oppose paying any school taxes, Neal said. In Michigan, nearly half of the 505 school bond elections between 2000 and 2005 failed, according to a March 2010 study in the journal Educational Policy.

In their study, Neal and co-author Jennifer Watling Neal, assistant professor of psychology, analyzed the data from a Gallup survey of more than 20,000 people from 26 U.S. communities from Michigan to Florida to California. As part of the survey, participants were asked how satisfied they were with their communities and to rate the overall quality of their public schools.

The researchers found a strong relationship between those who were satisfied with their communities and quality schools. This finding was not affected by gender, age, race, employment status or whether the participant owned or rented a home or had children in school.

"We found that having quality public schools makes people more satisfied with their community regardless of whether they had in the schools or not," Neal said.

Neal said this is likely due to two major reasons:

  • Public schools offer amenities to the entire community such as adult education courses, after-hours computer labs, workout facilities, auditorium space for churches and other groups, and more.
  • Public schools have the more indirect benefit of promoting relationships among neighborhood residents. These relationships lead to issues getting solved – such as broken streetlights, unplowed streets or crime problems – that benefit everyone.
"I think it really boils down to seeing as more than just schools," Neal said. "They're community institutions that have an educational mission first and foremost, but they also have these other benefits as well."

Explore further

Environmental education in schools: Lessons from schools in Israel

Citation: No kids in public school? You still benefit (2012, February 17) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 17, 2012
"As part of the survey, participants were asked how satisfied they were with their communities and to rate the overall quality of their public schools."

Perhaps residents were satisfied with their communities because they felt that the community had a good public school system. How did the authors control for that? Have the authors looked for somewhat more objective metrics for school quality than residents' subjective feelings?

Have the authors looked into the quality of private schools in these communities? Perhaps it is the quality of the private schools that is contributing to the quality of life.

These are all questions that reviewers, editors, and readers should be asking, but when the "results" support a political agenda, why bother?

Feb 17, 2012
The key term is 'quality'.

Feb 18, 2012
I think they have missed the cause and effect. Ferky hit upon this point. Local property taxes pay for local services such as firemen, police, and local schools. People who are receiving quality services are much more likely to be satisfied with their community than someone who isn't. I'd also bet the highest levels of happiness and good schools were in upper and upper-middle class areas. Those equal higher incomes, higher property values, and higher taxes which results in better police forces, fire departments, and more funding for schools! I'm also guessing that these types of people might be a little further looking and realize that educations are important, since many of them have had better/more education! I'm also pretty sure that they weren't finding too many good schools with happy communities in the ghetto!

Feb 18, 2012
This appears to be propaganda for the government school monopoly. Funding was likely from tax money. Writing that "It's unfair for those without kids to benefit from public schools but not play a role in taking care of the schools" shows severe bias on the part of the authors, as typically property taxes pay for government schools; thus, they are "playing a role in taking care of the schools."

What wasn't done and is more of use to taxpayers, was to compare government school educational outcomes to private school educational outcomes. Or to compare citizens' evaluations of areas where parents have a choice of schools vs. areas where government doesn't provide a choice. And in areas where parents have a choice, if that choice includes private schools (paid for via public funds).

This is an example of government taking your money to promote causes that benefit government employees. George Washington called such spending tyranny.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more