Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Starvation Rations

In The Good German, Joseph Cannon describes how the Nazi's experimented with rations in the camps. Their goal was to spend the least amount of money on food rations as possible, providing just enough to keep the condemned prisoners alive and working. The questions they asked were things like: if we spend enough for a hundred more calories a day per person, is that more cost effective than increasing the rate of executions and arrests?

The current budget crisis is not the board's fault. The state of California, now in 47% place in terms of per pupil spending, bested by places like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Oaklahoma that have much lower costs of living, has placed its children on starvation rations. The question seems to be: What is the minimum amount we can spend and still keep most test scores high enough that people can still blame socio-economic status and parent's level of education and not the state for our crappy education system?

The problem we have in California is not a spending problem but a revenue problem. All the things that we know work-- qualified teachers, reasonable class sizes, preschool, engaging electives, art, music, sports-- all cost money. More money than we are spending. My yearly property taxes do not cover the per pupil allotment for my children, and as I have written before, this also covers many other vital services.

Here is what is needed: grownups. Responsible grownups who work hard and do their civic duty to pay taxes. Even maybe set aside the expense on the new Wii system or the leather interior on the new car so that we can fund our schools.

FIRST: the great state of California needs to triple it's per student allocation right away to bring our spending in line with New York-- a state with a high cost of living and a flagship educational system.

SECOND: The federal government needs to fully fund IDEA ongoing and increase block grants for states for educational expenses. ALL underperforming schools under NCLB need to be given more freedom to innovate and more funds to work with.

THIRD: Private fundraising by schools and districts (like foundations and PTAs) grossly contribute to the inequity between areas with high concentrations of poverty and ours, with relatively low concentrations of poverty. This is true within our own district, but more so across districts. Here again we need grownups, citizens of a proud democracy who believe that equitable schooling is the birth right of every child in America. Without this commitment from all parents and communities to every child in every community, the first two remedies will be what they have been historically: starvation rations that are supplemented by local communities that can purchase extra rations and starvation for those that can't.

And we blame the kids, the teachers and the schools for the unequal test scores.