Monday, May 02, 2005

It's not enough just to be right

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:38 PM |  

It always amazes me that the people who scream the loudest about the need for government to maintain its monopoly on school funding are fast and furious to criticize government when it gets it wrong. The institutional editorial in today’s Pioneer Press is a prime example.

I find little to argue with in these Pioneer Press comments about Gov. Pawlenty’s proposal that 65 percent of a schools of operating funds be spent on classroom instruction --
We're hoping this 'solution' is scrapped soon. Legislators need to focus on genuine solutions to increased school funding. This kind of financial uniformity that judges certain classifications of school personnel as less important than others is arbitrary and just wrong. . .

The 65 percent mandate would do that by standing over the shoulders of finance specialists to ensure librarians aren't mistaken for educators. What a waste of time. . .

Don't assume we object to transparency. Not at all. Every school district with curious parents would benefit from a concise, clear accounting system available on a Web site. If any good can come from airing this issue, it's that. Improved public communication is in order. For now, district budgets may be publicly posted, but a district's first communication priority is to meet arcane legislative reporting requirements on how money is spent. In some instances, that's about as clear as mud. A system that shows exactly how much each district spends on special education, for example, would be useful. . .

Note to our elected leaders: skip the smoke and mirrors. Educators and children in this state deserve better.
But here’s the point: The 65 percent solution is exactly the kind of “arbitray” solution you’re going to get from a big government monopoly that must first balance a budget, second balance political considerations and only thirdly actually address the needs of students.

Gov. Pawlenty’s proposal is clearly about the system, not the kids, but so is the Pioneer Press editorial position.

As long as government controls the funds, schools receiving the funds are going to be accountable first to government, second, if at all, to parents and children. Tweaking the system, whether it's arcane funding formulas or arcane school rating systems, it's still about the system, not the kids.

What practical good does it do a parent to know how much money is spent on special education? What a parent wants to know, especially the parent of a child that requires special education, is what are you going to do for my child and have you been successful with other children like mine?

What parents want, if schools don't do what they say they will, is the ability to send their children someplace else.

I don’t need to know why Wal-Mart sells the same brand toaster oven for 7 percent less than K-Mart. I just know that Wal-Mart is providing a better value on toaster ovens than is K-Mart. If I want Martha Steward cups and saucers, maybe I go to K-Mart, but if I want a toaster oven, I'll go to Wal-Mart.

Schools are no different -- which is why the first necessary for instituting education reform is providing parents -- all parents -- with the same freedom of educational choice that they have in all other areas of their lives.

School choice is not a panacea that will solve all educational problems, but without it, "smoke and mirrors" will continue to be the order of the day, and the educational needs of children will run a distant third to balanced budgets and begging for ballots.