Why shame is never enough
Charged up by our governance conference last week, Dave DeSchryver says we should open the black box of school finances and shine some much needed light on how school dollars are really spent. This kind of accountability, with some easy-to-use tools along the lines of Mint.com, is sorely needed as education budgets have ballooned out of control.
But hoping that district leaders will be shamed into spending more frugally is not enough. How do I know? Because even when they’re required to report on financial problems publicly, district leaders and politicians are utterly shameless in nearly all cases, tinkering around the edges rather than facing facts.
Take Montgomery County, Maryland. Last week the county released a report showing the school district’s pension costs have increased by 369 percent over the past eight years. The state pays for teacher pensions, but the county is on the hook for everyone else’s plan. The council president claims this is “a huge cause for concern,” but no one is seriously considering changes to build a better retirement system. They’re pushing for quick fixes, increasing teacher contributions to a fundamentally unsustainable program.
School spending needs more than a technical fix. More transparency could help create pressure, and weighted student funding could give parents more perceived “skin in the game” by tying a dollar amount to their own child’s education. In the end, though, we need political coalitions of taxpayers and parents who are angry at the status quo and will vote — and donate to campaigns — in order to funnel school dollars where they’ll be most effective.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
May 16, 2013