METCO has turned into a way for middle class taxpayers to subsidize rich taxpayers?

Our town in suburban Boston voted down an official recommendation to spend $30 million on a new school back in 2012 (a state agency, the MSBA, was going to pay for another $21 million or so). The official committees are at it again, but this time the MSBA is saying “You guys don’t actually need a new school so we’re not kicking in.” The volunteer experts in our town don’t want to use modular construction, which enabled a high school for 400 students to be built in Hyannis in 9 months for $8.5 million (MSBA presentation). Their idea is to use 1930s techniques at 2025 prices (e.g., $110/hour for labor) and therefore it will cost $100 million to build a school for 440 town-resident children, 84 students who come via bus from Boston (see “Low-effort parenting in Massachusetts via METCO“), and roughly 20 kids who are the children of employees, such as teachers.
Here’s my email to the town discussion list:
I haven’t heard anything about Boston kicking in for the portion of the school that is used by their residents. says that the busing program was set up in 1966. At the time the suburbs were rich and the cities were poor. So it would have made sense for Lincoln taxpayers to subsidize the comparatively poor taxpayers of Boston by paying capital costs.
Today the situation is reversed. A high-end parking space in Boston is worth more than a low-end residence in Lincoln (see ). That’s a big switch compared to 1966 when METCO was established (the Forbes article says that parking spaces that sold for $7,500 in 1979 were up to $400,000 by 2017). shows condos and townhouses in Boston from $6.3 million (2,517 square feet) to $16 million (5,703 square feet). So Boston has a lot more rich people than Lincoln and the rich taxpayers of Boston are much richer than anyone in Lincoln. But maybe the METCO funding concept hasn’t kept up with this change since 1966? Or middle-class people in Lincoln enjoy paying higher taxes so that people who own $16 million condos can pay lower taxes?
[How do the $16 million condo owners run their own schools’ physical plant? Boston Latin School, the #1 high school in the state (see US News), operates within a structure built in 1922. It was renovated in 2001 and, apparently, a lot of the funds were raised through private donations.]
A heretic responded that
METCO students come from families with higher income levels than the Boston
population at large
My follow-up:

I wonder if the income of METCO families is relevant, though. If Lincoln taxpayers did not subsidize each student’s education with roughly $18,000 per year (the difference between our per-pupil spending and what METCO reimburses), it wouldn’t be the METCO family that paid tuition elsewhere. It would be the Boston taxpayers who would pay for the student to be educated within Boston, including any costs for school renovation or construction.

Since it is the richest people who pay the most in property tax, wouldn’t it make sense to look at Lincoln’s spending on METCO as a subsidy to Boston’s richest residents? Essentially each METCO student that we pay to educate enables a wealthy Bostonian to enjoy a vacation with first class tickets to Paris and a stay at the Hôtel de Crillon. [Boston has a substantially lower property tax rate, both per resident and per dollar of property value, than Lincoln.]

Is this a good example of a general rule that every do-gooding program in the U.S. that is designed for rich people to subsidize poor people ends up becoming middle class people subsidizing rich people? The biggest property tax payors in Boston are the owners of downtown skyscrapers. Those folks could be billionaires in China or Manhattan, right? Why is there popular support for paying more in tax so that these billionaires can pay less?


6 thoughts on “METCO has turned into a way for middle class taxpayers to subsidize rich taxpayers?

  1. Your phrasing is a bit convoluted. Then again, the situation on a whole is rather convoluted.

    This complexity is the problem. You are dealing with a Gordian knot that no amount of fiddling will untie. Pouring money on the knot only swells the strands and makes the knot tighter. Extending the metaphor dilutes its insight.

    Isn’t Lincoln full of smart people? Why tinker with a faltering paradigm when you can invent a better one?

    The main answer is that your children’s lives are directed more from the State House in Boston and an army of bureaucrats than they are by the wisdom of their mothers and the virtue of their fathers.

    You have nothing to lose but your chains.

    P.S. What’s wrong with the George V?

  2. Phil’s town is probably “full of smart people”/voters of which 86% do not care about the cost of their school renovation, and the remaining 14% of voters approved the second most expensive option ($93 M, option “L3”).

    I wonder why they did not go for L4. It’s only $3M more expensive than L3, and the 86% would not mind anyway.

    I am watching the Lincoln school renovation insanity with a certain degree of amusement and realizing that my town (neighboring Lincoln) got off relatively cheaply with the taxpayers having spent “only” $46M on a similar nonsensical project.

  3. We don’t have a mayor. We have a town manager who works full time. Then volunteers who serve on committees that may meet for 4.5 hours without refreshments or bathroom breaks.

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