Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Education Funding

One thing that really gets my stomach in a knot is that state of education funding in my state (Washington). The district I am currently working in is facing some pretty steep budget cuts as are many other districts in our state. By no means is this a rant against my district as I feel they are doing and have done an admirable job of keeping these cuts away from the classroom. This is more a rant against those out there who can't seem to figure out how to properly fund education.

I am by no means and expert on the fiscal policies and procedures of the State of Washington, but I do have some observations to make and hope to receive comments or corrections on. Our education system is funded through various taxes and lottery earnings which go into the states general fund and sent out to the various districts in the state based on a student formula. This coupled with local property tax levies are the main ways schools are funded in our state. One thing both voters and legislators can agree in is that the system is not fully funding educations needs but that is where the agreement ends. On the one side you have voters who are feeling over burdened with a multitude of taxes and on the other side you have the legislators who are busy fighting over various issues ranging from transportation, to the environment, to security, and to education. They all have their own opinions on how to solve the education problems of our state. They range from moving away from public education to charter or private schools, to reforming schools to be more business like, to home schooling, to various other reforms. The two things they all have in common is that they all have their "experts" they cite as to why they will work better than what we currently have. The second thing they have in common (for the most part)is that they leave out the opinion of the real experts in the field, the teachers. I know some of you will tell me that educators are consulted and I would agree that educators are consulted but who are these educators? Are they actual teachers or are they people who work in the field of education such as front office people, administrators, district budget personnel? I agree that we need to talk with these people but we also need to talk with actual teachers as well so we get all sides of the story.

There are currently some really bad plans out there to solve the funding of education. You have one plan to privatize education and make it a for profit company that runs the school. Where should I start on why this is a bad idea? I will simply say that a school is not nor will it ever be a good for profit business. Another idea is that districts and schools need to be more business like in that they need to offer up incentives for those who turn out the best students, the good old corporate mentality. This sounds good on the outside but as you dig deeper into the practice it could make things pretty ugly. You can't apply a for profit corporate business model to an industry that deals with human nature. The mind is not a blank slate that you can imprint knowledge on like a circuit board. It is a plastic entity that is ever changing and responding to its environment in unpredictable ways. This plan would send education back to the dark ages of having teachers shut themselves in their classroom and not share out ideas for fear of losing their "bonus". You have charter schools which is a melding of private and public which can be a good thing but you need to make sure that they don't take us back to education before Brown vs. The Board of Education.

I am not one to gripe about something and not offer up a solution as well. I will be the first to admit that my solution may not be the most wise or perfect solution and there could be better ones out there but I will say that it comes from a certified teacher who is in the trenches day in and day out. Currently we have a system where states are responsible for funding public education and I say it should stay that way as different states have different needs. However it needs to a priority for states to fully fund education from a separate account outside of the general budget. This would give legislators the ability to separate out cuts on frivolous spending and necessary spending. It would also make sure that money that is meant to be spent on education is spent on education and not diverted elsewhere. The other part would be to fully fund mandates. Currently there are several unfunded mandates that are diverting resources from non-mandated areas. By requiring a funding requirement to every mandate it will reduce the number of mandates to those that are very important to have. With a reduced number of unfunded mandates money will be able to flow down to where it needs to be.

I know my solutions may seem simple and from a naive point of view. My intent is to stimulate some conversation around the issue with the hope that it will end up in the hands of those who are making decisions on how to fund education.

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