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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