Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mo Money

Last week, one of the bloggers I follow, okeducationtruths, released a blog about vouchers and, more specifically, Jason Nelson's bill on vouchers.  I added my two cents because, even though we don't always agree, the writer is a great listener and quite accommodating of opinions, and I LOVE that!  

I'm not going to get into the voucher thing here (if you're interested, you can find my comments at the link above) but I am going to paste my answer here to okeducationtruths last post.  It's a post I've wanted to do here on our blog for quite a long time, so it just seemed the right time to make this happen. 

I've had very definite opinions on money in public education for quite a long time and I would like people to hear them.  If you don't agree, that's fine, tell me why not.  I truly do LOVE hearing peoples thoughts.  In fact, the first line of response to okeducationtruths is:

First, I actually love that we don't always agree.  As I've told Nicole a number of times, if we always agreed the world would be a very dull place AND we'd have learned nothing to expand our horizons!

I think your points are excellent and well taken here - especially the point about not being able to add up tax dollars like chits.  True, however, there is an actual proportionality of tax dollars required by each tax payer that goes toward public education (your property tax bill has that fully delineated).  This is the amount of money I was referencing in this case.

Your comment, "I do have a problem with the mentality that everything can be done better when left to private markets", is also interesting to me.

I can come into agreement on that as well for the most part.  In fact, I think the most nefarious thing about this whole latest 'reform' package is the fact that it IS private companies/philanthropists (without any educational expertise on any level in a whole lot of instances - the Chamber of Commerce?  Come the heck on!) making these pronouncements instead of ideas unfolding in a more 'democratic' style.  "He with the gold makes the rules" as it were.  That is NOT American if you ask me.

Here's where I think I get the most frustrated.  I was not for state question 744.  I am not for pouring more money into schools.  The idea that we should somehow be equating money with educational 'rigor' (ack, I can't believe I said that word in a sentence!) or outcomes of any kind is a red herring.  (PS I totally appreciated hearing the definitions provided for both Red Herring and Straw Man!)

I am constantly attacked for what I'm about to say, but I think it speaks to my conviction (or stupidity!) that I keep on message: we put men on the moon when computers took up rooms and rooms, most advanced mathematical computations were done on slide rules and the federal government had yet to really sink their hooks into the educational system.  There are home schooling families out there that use little more than books and flashcards to give their kids a well-rounded, classical education, that has been shown to produce better overall results than public education. 

I studied lots of ins and outs of spending as I researched my arguments against 744 and here is what I found (in general terms).  It takes a HUGE amount of money at the state level to administer federal grants for which we get - after administration costs - pennies on the dollar, yet our state goes running to FedEd constantly for all kinds of programming.  Much of this programming has never been tested or tried - or has been proven NOT to provide much, if any benefit (Head Start, for example) yet we do it because we get 'free' money.

Oklahoma legislators are very fond of riding public education with a heavy hand.  A very large number of education laws are passed because someone in a district needs/wants that very thing they ask of the entire state.  Most laws won't/don't translate well to another district, but suddenly, all districts must fall under the edict.  We have mandated public schools into near complete commonality and the poor house, as most state education laws end up in the unfunded category.

That said, there can be no way that the largest (well second now behind health care I understand) budgeted item in the state needs MORE money to succeed.  (Yes, as a teacher, I DID buy a number of my own things and as a science teacher I was often begging for supplies, just for the record.)  What we do need, however, is an enormous AUDIT of programming, unfunded mandates and job descriptions at the state education level.  We MUST return money to classrooms from the administrative level so science teachers can buy microscopes (instead of watching online videos about Paramecium, the novel idea would be that kids actually get to see them for themselves!) and any other amount and/or kind of tool necessary to teach kids.  There is money in the system, it just needs to be reapportioned and why shouldn't we demand that this happen?  Why must we use federal money when it comes with strings and gives us only pittance for our beseeching?  Why must districts go to the state for money when their 'customers' are right in their own backyards?  Our cities are run in this fashion.  If schools were administered at the district level instead of the state level, it would certainly be a lot easier to reapportion unnecessary funds and redirect money into classrooms...but then do the powers that be really want that? 

Educational Equity doesn't always come wrapped up in a perfect little box labeled "money".  We need to get out of this rut, expand our horizons and realize that few things in life are ever really 'equal' and that equal education is really a subjective term - for parents and even communities.  The only reason we love the word 'equality' in education is because it happens to be the only thing we can use to make that label mean the same thing to everyone - the objective quantity of dollars and cents.  Sadly, true equality in education is only going to come when schools/districts can do for their 'customers' what is actually best for them and NOT best for the state.