How to get support for funding

PHOTO BY CT-Sent as WAGNER MUG 11-27.



Last week I wrote a bit about the wisdom of the value of increasing funding to education as a panacea to improve performance and received a number of responses people concerned about the quality of education for their children and their neighbors’ children and how to define and achieve success for the students.

Unlike what some would have you believe, ordinary people are resistant to expenditures in education not because they don’t think there’s great value in having an educated and skilled society but that much of the money spent has not resulted in much success.

We live in an increasingly technical society, yet are financing a K-12 educational system increasingly devoid of the technical skills to manage it.

The vast majority of everything you’ll use today will have some relationship to technology at whose root are various disciplines of science constructed in the framework of mathematics.

Yet the United States, despite spending the most per child of industrialized nations, in the latest study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only managed to crack the top 50 in mathematics, landing at number 40 and shot up to number 24 in science while vaulting to 23 in reading.

To be fair, we were competing against economic powerhouses like Slovakia and Estonia, which finished No. 3 in science.

With that in mind, I am frustrated when I look at the latest spending proposals which lack measurable goals in any of these areas. The everyday person how decides if an investment is successful by referring to some measurable quantity — an increase in wealth for example or demonstrably higher performance (like one of my personal favorites, more horsepower).

The chances of receiving an investment from taxpayers is much higher if you tell them what you’re going to do and what measurement you’re going to employ to determine success.

Test scores are probably not the best measurement of educational achievement, but like democracy they’re probably the best that we have. Unfortunately, to some the answer to poor test scores is to change the test, which means to eliminate the benchmarks with which to compare loss or gain.

It’s clear to me that support for funding any public expenditure is more easily achieved by setting out more short-term goals that have some measurements of success or failure that the investors/taxpayers can understand, be they test scores, graduation rates or retention, and they’ll make their own judgment about whether that measure of success is something they believe is acceptable.

Presently, aside from capital improvement projects, the school district’s proposals for the usage of money are quite general and contain few benchmarks to be used in determining the success or failure of an expenditure.

People who make those sorts of investments are most wise if they use someone else’s money.

This is not to say it’s easy for any school district. Over a fairly brief period of time, the expectations from schools have grown exponentially from what used to be thought of as their mission. Moreover, a number of these new missions seem to have little to do with educating students in the basics needed for real-world achievement and instead have increasingly led schools to become whole food restaurants, childcare facilities and locations for experiments in social change.

Much of this comes from the federal government, which contributes a relatively small amount to the funding for public education but has an outsized voice in how it’s conducted — making it difficult for school districts to satisfy both the people that provide most of their funding and those that oversee regulation and grants.

The capital construction pieces of the district’s proposal seem the most necessary, but by tying them into everything else in one large desperate bite, they are all probably doomed.

Even in that area, I’ve received feedback that the cost of some of the capital projects, particularly the $40 million for a new Orchard Mesa middle school seems very high compared to other projects, such as Grand Junction’s 58,000 square-foot public safety complex for fire and police which was about $33 million and included a state-of-the-art dispatch center and renovation of Fire Station No. 2 and we’re not speaking about an entity known for frugality.

My suggestion is to put forward regular, smaller requests for funds which are mostly limited in how long that burden will be imposed and what the expectations are for that project if it is successful.

If people see positive, measurable results they will be more likely to fund a number of small projects over time than all of them at once.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney who maintains a political blog, The War on Wrong. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


COMMENTS

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Mr. Wagner quite obviously believes that the sole purpose of an education is a skilled workforce and, given his obsession with materialism, it is understandable that he would have a short-term view of education, measures everything in short terms. That has been the problem with the American educational system from the founding of this country, something which was pointed out by none other than Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study on American society (Democracy in America), published at the beginning of the 19th century.  Mr. Wagner, as well as many others, should study that work.

Some of us, although we value the skills of others (whether that of a doctor, attorney or ditch digger), consider the real objective of education as one that creates an open, super-critical and open mind.  Or, to put it another way, creates a “free thinker”. 

That is not possible if, even before the student enters his first day of class, others have used that time, in one way or other, to close those minds or restrict what those young people are allowed to think. 

Once closed, a mind is not only difficult to re-open, but the opposite usually the case.  Those with closed mind will do everything in their power to defend what it is they already believe is supposedly “THE truth”.  Mr. Wagner, as well as many other so-called “conservatives” are classic examples of that type of thinking, all too frequently characterized with the mindset of “This has always been the case, so we can do nothing to change it.”  That is the mindset of a “loser”, whether that “loser” is an individual or an entire society.

Yes, there are short-term goals that should be set and met. But, I would submit to Mr. Wagner and many others who think as he does, that the very purpose and objectives of education must be faced and addressed.  That is something which such as Mr. Wagner either cannot or will not see.

Mr. Wagner should look at his own profession (that of attorney) and examine the “horror” which many expressed at what was the case referred to as “affluenza”.  If he did so honestly, he would have to admit that this “affluenza” was a clear example of people getting the “justice” they can afford;  i.e.  If you can afford some high-priced attorneys you get one type of justice but if you can’t then you get another type.  Perhaps Mr. Wagner should look at that as an example that should be carefully examined.

Perhaps Mr. Wagener, as well as many others, should keep in mind one thing when approaching any subject area or issue.  The question is not, whatever we may do personally, will leave humanity itself better or worse off.  Most actually assume the former, something which has almost always proven to be false.

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