How teachers in Baton Rouge took corporate tax breaks out of ExxonMobil’s greedy hands

The world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas corporation won’t blink an eye after losing $2.9 million in tax breaks. But the way they lost them matters.


ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas corporation, often cutting deals with authoritarian leaders in countries like Angola and Equatorial Guinea. Its fourth-quarter profit last year nearly quintupled to $8.38 billion after President Trump’s tax cuts.

Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has a $30 million budget deficit and teacher shortage. Its school buildings and buses are crumbling. Ninety-seven percent of its students, the majority of which are black or brown, qualify for free or reduced lunch. Teachers and school employees haven’t had an across-the-board pay raise since 2008.

Yet, ExxonMobil has received $700 million in local property tax exemptions from the parish over the last 20 years.

Not anymore.

Earlier this month, the school board narrowly voted against giving ExxonMobil two property tax breaks totaling about $2.9 million over a decade, one for a refinery and one for a chemical plant. Both facilities have already been built, which left some school board members scratching their heads.

“I would be a lot more receptive for a new project, something that’s going to bring in new business, new jobs,” one board member said.

But this isn’t just a story of elected officials making a rational decision based on the facts. It’s also one about power — and one that rings out even louder after striking teachers in Los Angeles, California, just won more resources and support for their students.

A teacher walkout threat set the stage in Baton Rouge. Last October, teachers and school support staff voted overwhelmingly to hold a one-day school shutdown to demand that the school board reject ExxonMobil’s request. Within hours, the requests were taken off the agenda for a forthcoming board meeting. Then, after last week’s board vote, ExxonMobil dropped the bids for good.

A company representative says that losing the tax breaks could make them hesitate to invest in the local plants because of a “lack of predictability” and “confusion.”

But the teachers know something much bigger than one corporation’s future is on the line. “The survival of public education is at stake,” said the president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators back in October.

She’s right. The idea that taxes should be perpetually cut on corporations and the wealthy — known as “trickle-down economics” — is gutting public education nationwide, falling the hardest on poor, black, and brown communities.

Total state and local K-12 funding per student is still well below what it was before the 2008 recession.

Seventeen states actually send more education dollars to wealthier districts than to high-poverty ones.

Over 1.5 million students attend a school that has a law enforcement officer, but no school counselor.

Spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of public education funding in the last three decades.

Until we get real about how out of whack our tax system is, more and more students are going to go to schools with no heat, aging pipes, few supplies, and few adults other than police officers and underpaid teachers.

And the quickest path to getting real is more democracy, teachers fighting alongside parents and communities for what’s best for all public school students.


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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org