More money may not equate to a better education, but a lack of it hurts outcomes
In 2006, I ran unsuccessfully for state representative in Oregon. One of my campaign talking points was that there was too much wasteful spending in schools and that more money did not equate to a better education. There were no shortage of charts that compared per-pupil spending to educational outcomes. It’s true. More money does not necessarily result in a better education. I still believe that.
But then the recession happened and school districts across the nation were forced to make severe cuts to their budgets. In 2010 and 2011, District 51 cut $30 million from its school budget. Pause for a moment and think about how much money that is. Over the past seven years, as the district has dealt with those cuts, it’s become painfully obvious that there is a second part to the argument linking per-pupil funding to educational outcomes. And it’s this: While more money does not equate to a better education, there is a point where a lack of funding hurts educational outcomes. And we’re there.
District 51 officials have cut. They’ve cut to the bone. The fiscal conservatives can celebrate because the result of those cuts is that District 51 is one of the most efficient school districts in the state — spending less on administration than almost every other school district in Colorado. But it also means that schools are falling down, materials are outdated, we aren’t keeping up with technology, and most importantly, we legally can’t cut anymore days from the school calendar. Those of us with kids in school are painfully aware of the situation. We receive fundraising requests weekly from our schools to fund reading aids, carpeting, and materials. Working parents are even more aware since we’re constantly trying to figure out what to with our kids during all of those days they aren’t in school.
Let’s go over the facts. When $30 million was cut from the budget, the school board started by cutting excess administration so that we are now the fourth most efficient school district in the state. Then they cut maintenance on infrastructure. Our buildings are old — averaging 44 years — and since we continue to defer needed maintenance, those costs only continue to increase exponentially. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Orchard Mesa Middle school is literally falling down. Cutting administration and maintenance still wasn’t enough, so line items for curriculum materials (books) were removed entirely, which explains why today’s students are learning from books printed in the 90s. The most recent president in D51 books is President Clinton. Because books haven’t been purchased in more than 10 years, there aren’t enough books for every student. High school literature teachers are forced to read aloud to their students during class instead of having kids read at home and then using classroom time to discuss and teach what was read. This is like Third World stuff, people.
Excess administration, maintenance and curriculum materials still weren’t enough, so the school board reduced the number of days that students were in school to the legal minimum of 162 days, which is 18 days fewer than the national average. If you add up the days that our students are not in school compared to the average school, it equates to a full year less by the time a D51 student graduates from high school. Our students are a full year behind their counterparts. And while there is no correlation between school funding and educational outcomes, there is absolutely a correlation between time spent in the classroom and educational achievement. The more time spent in class, the better the educational outcomes. I don’t know how to make this point any clearer. If they aren’t in school, what are they doing? I’ve made this point in this column before, but it should come as no surprise that as we cut school budgets (resulting in less days in the classroom), crime rates have risen.
It’s that simple. Increasing per-pupil funding doesn’t mean a better education. Unless, of course, you’re attending school in District 51 where increasing per-pupil funding means being able to purchase up-to-date materials and technology, maintaining our publicly owned buildings, and keeping kids in the classroom longer than the legal minimum required. The argument opponents keep using — that an increase in per-pupil funding does not equate to increased educational outcomes — is dated and out of touch with the realities that our students face today.
Want to know exactly where the money is going? Check out the Citizens for District 51 webpage at http://www.citizensforsd51.org.