- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This column reflects major attitude today, and if you don’t want to read it, go ahead and flip the page. Or, if you’re on the Internet, scroll elsewhere on The Washington Times site.

Won’t hurt me a bit, though I do want you to think about the kids, because I’m beginning to think D.C. schoolchildren and taxpayers would be a lot better off if D.C. officials sold off or rented out all city-owned school buildings and dished out vouchers to all of the city’s school-age children.

Sounds extreme, eh?

Well, the situation is politically dire, and I don’t think it will change to benefit youths if drastic measures aren’t taken soon - and here’s why.

I’ll take it nice and slow for all you knuckleheads, newcomers and die-hard traditional public school enthusiasts who don’t know the definition of the word “public.”

So here’s the short, sweet version: Public school dollars should follow the student. The bricks-and-mortar school building, the quality of the teaching corps and, to a measurable extent, the location of the schoolhouse are irrelevant.

Give the kids a voucher and leave all the other decision-making up to their parents.

Now, the longer version: In 2010, D.C. officials established the Public Education Finance Reform Commission, whose mission was to study adequate, affordable, equitable and transparent measurements regarding per-pupil spending and make recommendations to top officials. Well, guess what, the panel gets a big red D.

First, the panel did meet, which is the only reason it didn’t get an F.

Second, the mayor and the D.C. Council all know that the D.C. public school system consistently overspends its budget and regularly gets additional funds or reprogramming options to close perceived gaps, while charter schools regularly are forced to live within their means. The panel offers no positive changes for charter school students in that respect.

Third, the overarching school-budgeting process remains a shell game, inherently favoring funding for traditional schools, magnet programs such as the School Without Walls, schools with unionized workers, as well as the costs of utilities and maintenance, and such demographics as family income and English-language learners.

This sleight of hand is precisely as a former D.C. mayor once told me. That is, there are and always will be “three sets” of school-funding books, one for the public, one for city officials and one with the truth, and nobody has access to all three.

To its credit, the panel suggested that funding for custodial and maintenance services and the cost of utilities be removed from the per-pupil funding formula, which could in turn lead to increased transparency.

But the panel also recommended more panels, seeking a pass because it didn’t have enough time or resources and because it discussed but failed to come to a consensus on some issues.

Think Seinfeld and ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. Or, if you’re still in a Mardi Gras mood, think gumbo ya-ya.

It simply doesn’t matter because if our military or law enforcers or first responders failed in their missions as miserably as this bunch, we would be replacing the Occupy D.C. crowd in Freedom Plaza and setting up a guillotine.

Do not be surprised if this school-funding debacle stokes the simmering flames of the recall movement and the next three D.C. elections.

Remember, this is about children, children who continue to be used as political pawns while we pray the next mayor and the next council will squash the status quo.

So closely - very closely - pay attention to Vince, Kwame, Phil, Michael, Jim, Vincent, David, Yvette, Tommy, Marion, Jack, Mary and Muriel, who have about three months to do what the school-funding panel failed to do.

And yeah - I’m taking the extreme liberty of referring to the mayor and council members by their first names. For all of them, their honorifics lose a little cachet every time they create a monster that gobbles up children and tax dollars.

Thank you for your time.

c Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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