Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Daniel Thwaites: Holness, Thwaites don't need tax cut

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2016 | 5:00 AM

One time, me and my bredren stepped into the club and right there, over in the shadowy corner, was a scantily clad girl, who, from where we stood, was looking good. My friend immediately approached to open up a conversation. By then, of course, it was already too late! He had put himself in the scenario before realising it was actually a crime scene. He had been tricked by the dark lighting, and he hadn't done adequate due diligence.

Sizing up his problem, he immediately drew a reverse: Sorry, mi luv! I thought you were my sistren, Shelly. Yuh fava har bad! Lata!"

I couldn't help recalling this mishap when the discussion about withdrawing the auxiliary fees from the high schools came up.

In fact, let me put it this way: Andrew Holness and Daniel Thwaites don't need a tax cut for education. In fact, we should have our taxes increased so that our children can one day live in a decent society.

I know you don't ordinarily hear people asking for a tax increase, so right now you're maybe thinking, "Dis yute had too much to drink inna de same club wid Shelly!" No! Allow me to explain.

Andrew's children and Daniel's children actually go to the same school, for which we pay $41,000 per year, per child. That's less than US$400 for a year's education. It's ridiculously low, not because $41,000 is nothing, but because compared to the value we attach to the schooling of our children, it's minuscule. And even my friend, if he wants to impress Shelly at the club, knows he will spend that.

So, should Andrew and Daniel, in a country that doesn't have a progressive taxation system (meaning that big earners pay the same percentage of their income as much poorer people), pay the same price as poorer people for a public high school? Is that equitable?

 

NO 'FREE EDUCATION'

 

Andrew and Daniel both rate Michael Manley, but we know that the conversation a country needs to have before there is universal high-school access is different than the one it needs to have after there is universal high-school access. In particular, we know there is no such thing as 'free education', although we both also know politicians looooove the term. Anything worthwhile costs: We know that, the public knows that, Shelly, especially, knows that. It's really state-paid tuition that is conveniently called 'free', meaning it's covered by taxes.

Now the Government can collect the tax in a number of ways. It can tax us and pay the cost to the school through the Ministry of Education. Or the Government can allow the school to tax us (the parents) directly.

Right now, we have a mix. The Government provides money, and then the school adds on a charge for the parents that can afford it. No child is denied a place because their parents can't pay. Therefore, when the Government says it will remove auxiliary fees, it's promising a tax cut to parents who can pay.

But I believe that those of us who can pay, especially those of us who live in mansions, need to throw more into the kitty to subsidise those who live behind the zinc fences. Especially for education! It is the single surest mechanism through which we can raise people, and families, out of intergenerational poverty. That benefits everyone.

But instead of raising the price on Andrew and Daniel, Ruel Reid says he plans to ban the auxiliary fees and then throw another $7,500 at the high schools in exchange.

Thing is, when Ruel was principal of Jamaica College, did he demand more than $7,500 from the parents? If so, why? He was at a school with a phenomenal, perhaps unmatched, alumni association raising money and providing all other kinds of assistance.

If even in those especially privileged and cushy circumstances JC needed more, he has some explaining to do? Is this policy being driven by the needs of children and their teachers? Or is it being driven by the voting patterns of parents?

As luck would have it, I have two nephews who currently attend JC. So I asked my brother how much Ruel had been taxing him. Turns out the JC parents paid $31,000, meaning Ruel owes a sizeable refund.

Please note that many other principals have felt the need to supplement the government subvention with fees above $7,500. To take some examples, almost at random: parents at Ardenne pay $29,000; St Andrew, $39,500; Holy Childhood $26,500; Meadowbrook $23,000; Merl Grove, $14,000; Queen's $28,000; St Hugh's $31,000; Wolmer's Girls $35,000; Wolmer's Boys, $30,500; Kingston College, $26,000.

In what alternative universe do we expect these schools to function with less than they did last year?

 

COLD REALITY

 

Stare this reality in the face: The Government's current plan will defund education, except perhaps in the most challenged schools where little to no auxiliary fees were being collected. This is populism dressed up in the designer clothes of social justice and progressivism wining over there in the shadows. Beware! You won't see it till it's too late.

The better answer isn't to give the schools less, but to give them more. The better plan is to direct any additional money to the weakest schools, while allowing the stronger schools to collect from those who can afford it. And the way to do that is to charge people like Andrew and Daniel more money, not less. Andrew and Daniel say they want everyone to get a meaningful shot at a decent life, so they will pay.

If the minister of education and clarification goes along as planned, of course, the schools will limp along. But this policy will likely just perpetuate the unwritten apartheid system where some schools, chronically starved of resources, churn out illiterates suitable for fieldwork or crime, and little else. And for the better schools where we wealthier people send our children, a sharp drop-off in parental contribution will, paradoxically, lead to more 'equality', by levelling the quality downward.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.