I’ve been thinking about the upcoming FUSD override election a lot lately, and not because the ballot just appeared in my mailbox. And also not because, even after having spent my entire life in Arizona, I still find it hard to believe that a state that has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in spending per student is going to once again slash the education budget. No, the reason I have been thinking about the override so much lately is because of all the moronic anti-override arguments I keep reading in the paper and online. I mean, some of them are so bad I wonder if the people making them have maybe been sent back in time from some dystopian future where the override didn’t pass in order to deliver a warning. (Cue somber voiceover . . . “In the future, educational opportunities in Flagstaff will be so limited that most children won’t even be able to make a rational argument . . .dum dum DUM!) No, wait a minute: skip the dum dum DUM: without the override it’s unlikely that there will be much music in Flagstaff’s future schools. Or much art. Or athletics. Or librarians. Or nurses.
Seriously though: some of the arguments these people are making are so off base they make my head hurt. Arguments like: “Maybe they could save money by replacing some of the positions with parent volunteers—you know, like the librarian.” (Because all librarians do is re-shelve books, right? That M.S. in Library Science? Nothing but two years of learning the Dewey Decimal System.)
Or how about “But what about the override money we gave you in back in 2006? And 2003?” (Spent it. And, as long as the state legislature keeps underfunding schools, we’re going to need to keep on spending it, every year.)
Then there’s “Schools need to learn to tighten their belts just like the rest of us—when I went to school we didn’t have fancy computer labs and special education classes.” I hate to be the one to tell you this, but special education classes aren’t a luxury—they’re mandated. And unlike charter schools, who can pick which students they accept, public schools MUST accept—and educate—any student within their boundaries. That’s the “public” part of “public education.” And as for the computer labs? Today’s students face an entirely different world than the students of a generation ago, and if they have any hope of succeeding in today’s workplace they need to have at least a modicum of technological training. Yes, I know that in your day they were “always hiring down at the buggy whip factory,” but times have changed—even many restaurants now require their food servers to be able to use a computer to place their orders with the kitchen.
Worst of all, though, are the arguments that are just plain factually wrong. Arguments like: “But we just can’t keep raising taxes every year.” That’s true—we can’t. And we don’t: in sixteen of the last twenty-two years the state actually voted to lower taxes, to the point where we paid 24% less in property tax in 2008 than we did in 2006. Or, “I’m all for education, but the district wastes too much money on administrative costs.” (FUSD now actually spends less than the state average on administrative costs, something that is remarkable considering both the size of the district and the fact that until recently positions like nurses and librarians were mistakenly counted as administrators.)
But finally, there’s my all time favorite: “We can’t solve everything by throwing more money at it.” How do you know we can’t? So far, we’ve never tried, and, at an average cost of six dollars per household per month, we’re not exactly going to be trying now. But that is something to think about—in the future.