SCHOOLS REFORM : THE FIGHT OVER FUNDING — AND AN ANALOGOUS CASE

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^ top : St Rep Alice Hanlon Peisch

^ bottom : St Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

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Reform comes hard to a system engraved in granite and embedded in the cement of habit. This is what a proposed “Act to Further Narrow the Achievement gap” faces as the Joint Committee on education, chaired by the two women pictured above, decides how to report the bill ; favor or not favored.

Today in Massachusetts many citizens are trying, in many ways, to make our already top-ranked schools even better. We are doing this because, as solid as our schools perform compared to those of other States, we are falling behind against school systems in many other Nations. In the global economy, those students from other lands can take the high-skill jobs that companies more and more require. We want our own children to compete for these jobs. The proposed legislation  is one such way. With it, the fight to improve our schools gathers force.

That force now confronts the force of habit. By which I mean, the system created by Horace Mann, as Massachusetts’s first Secretary of Education, more than 170 years ago.

Mann called for common schools to be established in every town and city, schools that would bring together children of all backgrounds and conditions. this was education for citizenship as much as, if not more than, education for employment.

Education for citizenship will always be fundamental to a society self-governing. By which I mean, schooling children in community, to become a community, to instill lasting commitment to discussion, tolerance of differences, and a common heritage of knowledge.

Citizenship, however is only one of education’s two crucial objectives. Employment is the other. It may even be more important than citizenship. If kids graduate unable to compete for the best jobs — which then go to students from other nations — their citizenship suffers too. And what does it say of us who enable such an outcome ?

No parent worth his or her soul prefers his or her kids to spend 16 years and more in school and not acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to compete for the best jobs. Schools are funded with taxpayer money. For most Massachusetts communities, the local school budget takes up almost half of all taxes collected. add to that large local aid payments by the state, from State tax collection (and yes, from the Lottery). We pay these taxes because we want top schools for our kids. It’s a first priority.

And so any argument that impedes our State from improving school performance must fail.

The question is not, what did Horace Mann do in 1840, but instead, “what would a Horace Mann do today ?”

Employment education in Horace Mann’s time was provided, in almost all cases, by apprenticeships. Students hired out to a craftsman, or attorney, or merchant, to work in his office and gain the job knowledge first hand. the parent paid the master to hire his c hild as an apprentice.

Thus Horace Mann’s common school could concentrate on education for citizenship, teach basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, and feel its job well done. Not so today.

Today we ask taxpayer-funded schools to do what apprentice systems did 170 years ago. But one thing has not changed : even as every craft required discrete knowledge, and thus separated apprentices in one craft from those in another, so education for employment today cannot help but separate out students on one job track from those on another. Thus we come to charter schools and all kinds of innovation schools. Add to that vocational schools, technology schools, arts and music. All have been mentioned. All are needed by students seeking the best jobs.

About this there can be no dispute. The difficulty arises in the usual place : funding. Every student who goes to a charter school or other innovation school generates a reimbursement payment to the public school system that he or she is now not attending. But the compensation formulas will — according to Northeastern University’s PHRGE paper on the subject — leave public schools short by 37 % of full reimbursement. that 37 % shortfall means a cut in funds available to standard public schools.

Parents of children facing that shortfall have a right to be upset. Except that the 37 % isn’t — indeed, can not be — the whole answer. If a public school system is short, say, 500 students, because the 500 are going to school elsewhere, then how can that public school not need less money than what it had projected ? presumably it doesn’t cost the same to educate 10,000 kids as it costs to educate 10,500. There’s 500 less school books to buy, and, probably, a few less teachers to teach.

And you know what that means. Now you know why there is so much vociferous opposition go the proposed charter school cap lift. Not because it unfairly targets school districts designated as underperforming, but because it threatens teacher jobs.

What to do ? For answer I turn to an analagous case : railroad reform in he 1960s. When the – nation’;s railroads moved from coal to diesel — technological change ! – the railroad workers’ unions insisted that the rail lines continue to employ and pay the now unnecessary firemen. this was called “featherbedding,” and it was.

To put an end to this practice, the rail lines agreed to buy out the rights of the firemen . It meant paying each a huge limp sum equal to several years’ earnings.

I propose that our charter cap lift school reformers own up to the teacher union problem four square and offer to buyout the contracts of teachers when and as charter school student numbers increase to a point that it lowers the cost of publicly educating them. It will expensive, but that’s the price of moving past an entrenched system without wreaking injustice upon the people who’ve committed to that system.

The current legislation includes significant superintendent power to bring about this result, but it does not go the last, significant step.

I also propose something else : that charter school students — indeed, any students whose education is publicly funded — be required to take at least a few courses in a standard public schools, so that they can broaden their education for citizenship even while perfecting their education for employment.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

1 thought on “SCHOOLS REFORM : THE FIGHT OVER FUNDING — AND AN ANALOGOUS CASE”

  1. The benefit of acquiring advanced level of education and skill comes with a hefty price. Indeed, graduate school can be a tough financial burden that most opt not to pursue it. And yet, they miss out on the rewards.

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