I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2015

The American Public Understands: Our Schools Are Underfunded

The evidence has been accumulating for a while: America's schools do not have the funds they need to achieve the results that we expect. Most states have flat funding systems that do not move resources into high-poverty districts where it is needed. School funding is, in most states, still suffering from the effects of the Great Recession. Yet we know that money matters in education.

It appears that the American public understands this (click to enlarge):

72 percent of Republicans say funding is at least "somewhat important" for the schools. Perhaps more interesting, the view of the public at large on the importance of school funding tracks very closely to the view of public school parents.

You'll also notice blacks are more likely to say funding is "very important" than whites. Perhaps because too many black children are attending schools with inadequate funding?

This attitude toward school funding is not an anomaly:
Lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing American schools, according to respondents to the PDK/Gallup poll. That’s been a consistent message from the public for the past 10 years. Having sufficient money to spend would improve the quality of the public schools, according to a sizable portion of American adults. Nearly half of public school parents said having sufficient money was key to improving the quality of the public schools. [emphasis mine]
The message from the public is quite clear. And yet, according to the Republican presidential candidates and what I perceive to be the majority of the education "reform" industry, funding reform isn't nearly as important as implementing test-based accountability systems, expanding "choice," and gutting teacher workplace protections.

Yes, it appears the public likes some forms of school choice... but why is that? Could it be that no one wants to "choose" an inadequately funded school for their child? Those who point to allegedly long waiting lists for charter schools neglect to mention that those waiting lists are only for a few, select, high-performing schools. Most of those charters enjoy a resource advantage over both their fellow less-affluent charters ("research" by the charter industry that shows otherwise is deeply flawed) often thanks to large philanthropic grants. These charters also have smaller expenses due to the fact that they tend to serve those students who cost less to educate.

The reformsters pretend that urban parents are "choosing" schools that have non-unionized staffs which allow them to "innovate." But I've seen little evidence these high-flying charters do anything with their curricula or teaching methods that's truly innovative.

Here's a much more plausible explanation: When urban parents "choose" high-profile charter schools, they are really "choosing" schools with resource advantages. It just makes sense: if the public believes that school funding matters, and public schools are underfunded, why wouldn't they move their children to better-funded, high-profile charter schools -- even if they don't agree with many of the policies and practices of those schools?

If your choice is between a filthy, dangerous, underfunded school and a charter that gets significant philanthropic support -- well, there's really no choice at all, is there? Even if that charter does not afford you the same rights as a parent as a traditional public school. Because, as the public has said for ten years, inadequate school funding is a real problem in many of our districts.

Those who spend their time focusing on teacher tenure and union-bashing while brushing aside school funding reform have interests that are not aligned with the American public's. Golly, I wonder why...

OUR kids' schools have plenty of money!

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