- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Some know the value of education by having it. I know its value by not having it.”

— Frederick Douglass

 

What does public schooling need? More money.

When do schools need it? Now.

What do they need it for? Depends.

Those questions and answers might as well be inscribed on school budgets across the nation as teachers strike, localities seek state funding, states seek federal dollars and federal spenders allocate as if tomorrow is promised to no one. Tax now, spend tomorrow is their rule of thumb.

That certainly has been the case since President Jimmy Carter and Congress separated education from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and made it a Cabinet-level agency.

Prior to that, parents and other taxpayers knew local school salaries and understood budgets enough to know whether tax dollars should be spent on textbooks and chalk, or teacher raises and air conditioning. These days, raises top the list.

The majority of school districts’ budgets is spent on salaries, pensions, health insurance, tuition reimbursement and other employee benefits. Toss athletic and specialty club stipends and housing tax credits into the bucket, too.

Consider Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam wants to boost teachers’ pay by 5 percent. That’s on top of a 3 percent raise OK’d in 2018. The raise would increase K-12 school spending to an estimated $7.3 billion.

Not everybody, of course, appreciates the prospect of a 5 percent pay boost.

“Five percent feels insufficient,” said Richmond middle-school teacher Sarah Pedersen, who’s organizing Virginia Educators United. The coalition of teachers and education supports a 14 percent raise.

In Denver, more than of the 4,725 teachers in district-run schools called in absent on Monday, the first time the city has faced a teachers’ strike in 25 years. Some students bucked picket lines to get to their classes, where administrators and substitute teachers held sway.

Over the past year, there have been similar walkouts in Washington state, Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma, as teachers push for higher pay, smaller classes and more staff.

Inside the Beltway, the D.C. Council could be setting children and their parents up for what could become an annual pay-as-you-go game of charades. The lawmakers’ plan is to bring in a lengthy list of appointed officials and bureaucrats between now until spring to discuss public schooling.

They surely will get some numbers on graduate rates, literacy rates, textbook and technology costs. But when it comes and dollars and cents, the lawmakers should do some basic readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic homework beforehand to educate the public via transparency.

For example, what is the per-pupil expenditure? For traditional pre-K, primary and secondary school? Traditional and public charter? What’s the lowest salary of a traditional teacher? What’s the highest? In what schools are the majority of those teachers located? (Names, ages and ethnicity not needed.)

How many male teachers are full-time teachers? What subjects?

Is the D.C. Public Schools system bleeding teachers?

The salaries and benefits for all those mayoral and school officials who control the system cost stakeholders how much money this fiscal year? Will the cost be higher in fiscal 2020?

By getting down to such nitty gritty facts, parents can get a clearer picture of why teachers want to strike and why funding is always front and center as an educational issue.

If elected leaders don’t do their own homework and tell the truth, it’s easy to see why critics view advocates of school choice as the enemy.

And why don’t ask, don’t tell and, whatever you do, don’t tell the truth is their mantra.

⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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