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Are Schools REALLY Over-Funded

January 15, 2019

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday based on the Forbes article by Peter Greene that I drew from in an essay I posted yesterday morning. Peter Greene’s article included this quote:

Teachers across the country are dealing with the problems created by systematic underfunding of public schools

And THAT quote elicited this response from commenter “BA”, a response that was echoed by many who left comments on the Forbes web page:

I don’t think that most schools are truly underfunded, they are mis-funded. The money is spent on computers, that are used for testing, which are priced per test. The money is spent on iPads to report “now we have one iPad per student!” but what improvement does this bring? Students don’t need to handwrite anymore, and type on a virtual keyboard – not even a real one – this is progress? Worksheets either purchased or printed, then thrown away – money and paper is wasted. All the pencils and pens that students steal, break, throw away. All the food that the students throw away. The fences and peace officers, that make schools look like prisons. Too long to list, the point is, if the money were spent where it needed to, that is, on working curricula (not on Whole Language or any NCTM-branded junk), on good textbooks, on notebooks, on good old paper-based testing and grading, on school furniture (have you seen those tiny desks that the kids have to squeeze behind?), on teachers themselves after all, then the results would be different. Compared to most other countries, the U.S. spends a LOT per student.

But as I noted in my response to BA’s comment, the problem isn’t mis-funding: it’s a change in the public’s perception of how the economy works… and it doesn’t work for employees!

One of the biggest problems for public schools is the same problem that plagued union factories that closed in rust belt cities: legacy costs that are built into existing contracts. Public school budgets need to include money to fund pension benefits; health and life insurance benefits for current teachers; and reimbursement for college and graduate school tuitions. In addition, they must budget for contributions to State retirement systems.

Those of us who want to see teaching remain an attractive career that provides middle class wages and benefits do not see these costs as unnecessary. The vulture capitalist reformers who want to be free from “burdensome regulations”, however, want to compensate their employees as little as possible. They want to avoid paying their current employees for benefits and do not want to promise their current employees ANYTHING for retirement. Unions who want to provide living wages and benefits for current employees and security for retirees are an anathema to reformers.

Welcome to the gig economy that most workers live in… an economy that currently fosters resentment toward unions. Maybe when the temp employees with variable schedules and at-will employees who staff most workplaces see that they are being played by the plutocracy sentiments will change. Here’s hoping it changes in 2020.

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