In my previous posting, I lauded the excellent comments of Charles Butt, CEO of H-E-B. More recently, I attended a meeting of superintendents with Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Business. In some ways, their views are similar; in other ways, not.
Mr. Hammond says he isn’t sure he agrees with “many people who argue that to fix education it takes lots more money.” He goes on to say that “we have spent lots more money but outcomes haven’t improved concurrently.”
Mr. Butt looks a bit deeper: “The top Texas private schools charge – and I’m talking about just the very top group of maybe eight schools – they charge around $20,000 a year for a non-boarder. The state spends about half that. So you might ask the question: Are the private schools just wasting that extra $10K? I don’t think they are.” He adds: “But many people who don’t want the state to spend more use that as an excuse not to spend more. It really is a combination of great teaching, great leadership and adequate funding.”
I’d like to add my own reaction to some of Mr. Hammond’s comments:
He states that Charter schools “appear to do a better job for less money dealing with at-risk students.” In truth, a small number of Charter Schools do better; many others do not. Financial improprieties at Charter Schools are too frequent, as recently documented in the Houston media. A recent study said that Charter Schools spend more money per child than the public schools. Now I think public schools can learn a lot from outstanding and efficient Charter Schools — and many Charter Schools can also learn a lot from outstanding public schools. But Charter Schools are not the panacea that Mr. Hammond suggests.
And in what I consider the understatement of the year, Mr. Hammond says: “It’s not just the school district’s fault. There are some requirements in law that can cause school districts to spend money that they really don’t have to be spending.” For example, Mr. Hammond realizes it takes way too much money to fire bad employees. I agree and believe that since the problem was created by the Texas Legislature, it is theirs to solve. Over the years the state has added so many procedural steps and costly hearings that it has become very difficult to act. Unfortunately, legislators’ efforts to clean up such unfunded mandates were anemic and almost a footnote at the end of a 2011 session focused almost entirely on funding cuts. If those believing in “small government” reduced such unfunded state mandates as quickly as they reduced state funding, educational costs would drop. In the meantime, “Pharaoh” is asking school districts to make bricks without straw. And telling us it’s good for us.
Mr. Hammond refers favorably to the Comptroller’s Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) as evidence that Texas is increasing public school spending. But the “increase” in Texas school spending didn’t count the thousands of new students entering the Texas public schools, nor the newest mandates foisted on schools (e.g., expanded standardized testing), nor the state deficits created by previous state reliance on unstable federal stimulus funds. Almost every Texas school district drastically cut its budget the past two years. Does anyone really believe that such cuts would have been necessary if funding was not reduced?
Here in Pearland, we are among the 46 school districts (out of over 1000) awarded the highest five-star rating by the Comptroller’s FAST analysis. That recognition is given to school districts that produce high achievement on a low budget. Yet we were forced before and AFTER that rating to make massive budget and personnel cuts. Such huge cuts occurred in almost every school district in Texas — and are NOT imaginary.
With regard to producing higher academic results, “give us straw” with which to lay the solid brick foundation for Texas schools. And with regard to the ever-increasing state mandates, I ask “Pharaoh” to “Let our people go!”