Some recent comment on RV Dreams forum has prompted me to begin a “sort-of” dissertation on education in America and the effects of government upon it. On that forum post, I had mentioned that with the increasing acquisition of land by the federal government, it has a detrimental effect on all of us. Part of the effect is in the additional power that the government, and any political entities or interest groups, will have in controlling the lives of its citizens.
For instance, environmental groups have clamored for years for the government to “step in and protect” the land from the rest of its citizens. That has led to restrictions by the government on what citizens can do with their own land as well as public land. A few years ago, there were major brush fires in California that cost a lot of people to lose their homes because of the difficulty of fighting the fires. You see, the environmentalists got the government to prevent the clearing out of dead brush over large tracts of land.
As a result, there was additional fuel for the fires that ravaged the state. Even the individuals that happened to own the land were refused permission to clear out the dead brush. Other instances have seen the government prevent farmers from working their farm land because some animal is making its home on that land. If the animal is not really in danger of becoming extinct, the government still wants to control what can be done.
Just this last year, there have been battles to protect a fish and it prevented the farmers from irrigating their crops. Can you spell devastating effects on the livelihood of the farmers? That incident also occurred in California and affected an entire valley, not just a few farmers.
Even what would seem to be good intentions by government can cause a negative effect on the citizens. I would like to address some of that and how it affects education in America.
In my past, I was elected to the School Board of a small community in Cimarron County. As luck would have it, that was the year that the state informed school districts all over Oklahoma that our budgets would be cut. In that particular year, the budget for our school for the entire year was $600,000. The cut we were going to have to make was $50,000. In order to meet that demand, we lost the music programs in our school.
During that period, many of us attended workshops and seminars, trying to come to an understanding of what we needed to do. In one of those, a presentation was given by the school superintendent of Boise City to the group of us. He basically explained that Cimarron County, and primarily the Boise City school district, held a very large portion of what is called State School Land.
When looking at land in Oklahoma, the state is divided up into ranges, townships, sections, etc. A township is 36 square miles. For each township, one section (640 acres) was set aside as school land. However, at the time of statehood and the institution of the school land, a lot of land in many townships was already deeded to individuals, communities, or companies. So, to still have the same number of sections of school land to match townships in the state, they added school land to Cimarron County.
At the time, a lot of funding for schools was derived from ad valorem taxes. The rub is that school land is not taxable for ad valorem taxes. So, the school districts with extra school land were being shorted on their tax base. In Oklahoma, there are approximately 745,000 acres of school land. Cimarron County has 236,000 of that land. So, one county loses the tax base on all that land. Cimarron County’s area is roughly 1,841 square miles, making it come to 1,178,240 acres. Thus, a bit over one-fifth of Cimarron County is non-taxable, just on the basis of school land.
If you added to that the additional land owned by the counties and cities and other government entities, you can get an idea of how bad that would hurt Cimarron County. Now, let’s look at the effect of government land ownership on a national basis.
Oddly enough, the Western states are hardest hit, which will be visible below when you see an image with each state having a graphic within its boundaries and showing the percentage of the land in that state that is federally owned land. Also, any income from fees, leases, mineral royalties, etc. goes to the federal government to be doled out to the states as the politicians so desire. Thus, a low population state that has a large amount of federal land within its borders will suffer more that more heavily populated states.
Keep in mind, the image below is federally owned land only. It does not include land owned by the states, counties, and cities and towns. If I remember correctly, this map represents the land owned by the federal government in 2008.
While that image gives a quick look at percentages of federal land, the following link will take you to a site on the internet that shows both federal and state owned land. It is a far more detailed indication of what land is owned by government and is non-taxable for schools.
While I recognize that a state’s education programs are supported by federal and state “appropriations”, it is usually distributed at the whims of politicians and who can garner the most votes and calls from citizens to those politicians. That distribution is usually based on some arcane “formula” that is subject to change at the whim of greedy politicians and bureaucrats.