Money’s good; a good plan is better
I am truly sorry that Allie Leckie’s “It Takes a Community” campaign fell short of its goal to raise a million dollars in 30 days to support the Washoe County School District. But I am not surprised.
After all, if we were a community that truly supported schooling and education, our schools and colleges would not be in the sad financial shape they are in right now. Harsh, but true. You don’t get schools sitting at the bottom of the United States by nearly every educational standard indicator for years on end in communities that prioritize education. You don’t have a 56 percent high-school graduation rate. You don’t have the lowest per-pupil expenditure. You don’t cut your university operating budget by $48 million in an 18-month period. You don’t offer those students who do manage to succeed a millennium scholarship and then gut the fund to pay off other debts.
I could go on. But you get the point. The district’s (and UNR’s and TMCC’s) budget woes are not just a product of the recession—this state and community have kept education at the bottom of spending priorities for at least two decades (with the exception of Kenny Guinn).
Allie Leckie is the real estate agent who set out last spring to help close the district’s revenue shortfall, which at one point stood at $37 million. She would not call her own revenue shortfall a failure. “We did get about 725 people to donate, and I think what we did was raise awareness about the need to donate to the school district,” Leckie said. Getting 725 o donate in such a short period of time is indeed a worthy accomplishment; raising awareness is also good and important.
But, just like any deeply systemic problem, the first step to solving it is to get real about what is really going on. Nevadans, particularly those of us up here in Washoe County, have been deluding ourselves with half-baked theories about the relationship between funding and good education, so we might as well clear up some of the confusion:
• Cutting waste: Sure, there can be waste in the system. But cutting budgets does not automatically lead to more efficient systems—just ask any overpaid bureaucrat who managed to hang on to his job recently.
• Best teachers not motivated by money: Partially true, but often not for long. And the best teachers must have autonomy to flourish. Combine low pay with lack of autonomy in the classroom and you get teachers going to law school.
• Who needs education anyway? We all do. Educated citizenry are essential to a functioning republic and a healthy economy.
• Speaking of healthy economy, anybody pay attention to where China ploughed much of its profits over the past few decades? That’s right, into education. Now its engineers compete with ours for equal quality at far lower pay.
So, Allie, thanks for your hard work and passion, but the truth is, it takes a lot more than a community to guarantee high-quality education for our children. It takes a state with a solid, reliable and resilient source of funding. It takes a system with the financial security to adapt and innovate. It takes individual families willing to turn the TV off and read with their children. And above all, it takes a citizenry with the energy and passion to make our politicians accountable. When it becomes political death in this state to even think about cutting funding for education, then we can claim to be a community that cares.