Sunday, January 15, 2006

The 65% Solution and Perdue's Education Plan

Education is all the rage today; rather than do separate posts on every education-related thing in the paper today, we’re going to mesh them all together into an incoherent mass.  Would you expect anything less from us?


First off, the much-discussed 65% solution is examined.  We would expect that most superintendents and administrators are opposed to the 65% solution, and if Jeff Welch, who runs the Oglethorpe County Schools, is a representative example, we’d be right.  Now, we don’t pretend to know much about the schools in Oglethorpe County, and we know even less about Mr. Welch’s job performance, but the article certainly makes it seem like his priorities are in the right place.

And in the end, that’s what the whole 65% solution is about – priorities.  We’ve listed a few reasons in the past that cover why we’re against it, but the most salient point that we can make is that we believe that school districts shouldn’t be held to some contrived standard that may or may not help the students in that particular district.  

Of course, you can’t always trust the superintendent and the district administration to make those choices wisely.  We’ve argued in the past that our administration here in Clarke County doesn’t have their eye on the ball most of the time.  But there’s accountability built into the system – elections for school board members.  

The best part about the ABH article in our opinion is the list at the bottom, so that we can all get a better idea of what is and isn’t included in the definition of “in the classroom” spending.  We were surprised to see some things that are included that we didn’t think would be, such as field trips and funding for athletics and the arts.  But even so, those factors are outweighed by the things that aren’t included.  We’ve already mentioned counselors and nurses in previous posts.  You should also know that this doesn’t include social workers (and don’t even get us started on the conditions that necessitate having social workers in our schools.)  It also doesn’t include librarians or even libraries.  School cafeterias will also end up getting cut under the 65% solution.

The bottom line on the 65% solution is that it isn’t a good solution at all.  As we said, it’s all about priorities, and, despite the problems in the system, we do trust the folks in the classrooms and, to a lesser extent, their bosses to determine our district’s priorities more than we trust the state or a random number to do so.

Perdue’s Education Plan

Also in education-related news is the Gubner’s plan to pump more money into education.  Like the 65% solution referenced above, it sounds pretty good on the surface, and we’ll be the first to tell you that it’s better than nothing at all.  But, under the surface, education is going to continue to get the same raw deal it’s been getting for the last lo these many years.  

Joe Martin, who, if we’re not mistaken, was a candidate for state school superintendent back in 2002, does a lot of our homework for us in an op-ed that we presume was sent around statewide.  The ABH picked it up, and you can check it out here.  It’s chock full of numbers and figures and whatnot, and we’d suggest a careful read before you make up your mind about Perdue’s education plan.  Like we said, Perdue’s ideas are better than nothing, but we believe that as a state, we can do more, now that Georgia’s economy is starting to pick up some steam.  

Here’s the thing.  Education is what the pointy-headed folks who teach political science like to call a “valence issue.”  For the rest of us, that means that no one hates education.  Everyone, from the most hardcore conservative to the most raging liberal legitimately wants a better-educated citizenry.  Sonny Perdue wants good schools, and so do the Democrats.  As a society, we still value education, although arguably less so than in previous generations.  Good education is an investment, and while we might disagree on exactly how to go about achieving that goal, even to the point of disagreeing with the whole idea of public schools, we all agree that it is in the best interests of all not to have ignorance running rampant in society.  

So here’s a chance for Sonny Perdue to score some points and be a leader.  Let’s look briefly at the politics behind the policy.  The prohibitive favorite to challenge Perdue in November is Cathy Cox.  Cox has a well-deserved reputation for being more or less bipartisan; heck, the Republicans even tried to sway her over to the dark side of the Force last year.  We’ve even seen one or two “Republicans for Cathy Cox” bumper stickers tooling around town.  Sonny has a chance to cut into Cox’s burgeoning bipartisan street cred and show that he’s a leader on the issues.  Here’s how.

Scrap the education plan.  Stand up before the people of Georgia, save a little political face if you want to, and say, “You know, this was an okay plan.  It would have done some good, but it isn’t good enough.  We’re going to work together with Mark Taylor and Robert Brown and DuBose Porter, and we’re going to hammer out an education plan that does more for our schools.  And then we’re going to pass it.”  Ignore the press and the bloggers like us who will inevitably portray this as a backpedaling move from the GOP, and just be a leader.

Education is a valance issue.  More importantly, it’s consistently one of the top issues in every opinion poll we’ve ever seen.  For a lot of those suburban swing voters that both parties are angling for, it might just be the issue.  

Of course it’ll never happen.  If fixing education was as easy as paying lip service rather than teacher salaries, then we’d have fixed it a long time ago.  The solution is more complex than handing out $100.00 gift cards so that teachers can buy supplies.  Eventually, when budgeting for education, you’re going to have to make some tough choices, and you’re going to come face-to-face with some difficult issues, including the third rail of Georgia politics – race.  And nobody wants to face those issues, especially during an election year.

(Related:  Educators call shenanigans on Sonny’s plan.)


hillary said...

Everyone, from the most hardcore conservative to the most raging liberal legitimately wants a better-educated citizenry.

I'm thinking this could fairly be categorized as an overstatement. Some people want education for everyone, and some don't.

Publius said...

Oh jeepers. Ok...hear me out on this one, because I might inadvertently sound like a Republican here.

It's not that some people want education for everyone and some people don't. I'd characterize it more that some people want public education and some people honestly, rationally, legitimately believe that public schools shouldn't exist. I think they're wrong.

But the point I was making is that while everyone has a different feelings on education, even to the point of disagreeing about whether the govt. should fund it, no one is running around out there saying, "We need more stupid people in this country."

hillary said...

Not explicitly, no. But what do they think will take the place of the public schools? If people think the free education system we currently have should be abolished, they're essentially proposing that some people get edumacated and others don't.