Saturday, April 09, 2011

Think Global and Act Local OR Think Short Term and Invest Accordingly- Iredell and North Carolina Education Funding

I was escorted out of a county school board meeting by a police officer last year during deliberations about the future of international baccalaureate (IB) program frustrated at the lack of attention to quality and to the input of the large group of citizens attending their meeting- every deliberation seemed to be based on two things- the board’s desire to show the audience they would not be bullied by the voice of the attendees, and their concerns about the expense of a program that they had previously supported, but now wanted to back away from. The police officer had accused me of threatening school board members. He’d gotten the tone of my comments right- I was angry, but I had not threatened anyone- outside of saying that it is an elected group, and elections would be their undoing.

September of last year, got this email from one of our children’s principals:

Unofficial financial rankings for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in North Carolina were recently posted by the state. It was no surprise to see that Iredell Statesville Schools has moved from 111th to 113th in per pupil funding in NC. That means that only 2 school systems in NC spend less per child than we do. Below is a link to an interesting article entitled "How Much Does It Cost to Educate a High School Graduate in Your County?". The cost in Iredell Statesville Schools is $107,000. The average is $142,000 and the highest is $265,000. The conclusion is that the faculty and staff of the Iredell Statesville Schools are providing an outstanding return on investment to the taxpayers of Iredell County. Here's the link if you would like to read the report.

If you are happy with the services that are being provided to your child in the public schools of Iredell County, please let your County Commissioners know! We are committed to your children, and are proud of the work we do. We want our local government officials to know how you feel also.

Have a great night,

Boen Nutting

It is true that these are tough economic times, and I’ve tried to be a bit more educated about our funding/spending for our school systems. The fact of the matter is that we don’t pay a lot for our children’s education in North Carolina (46th out of the 50 states) and in Iredell County (Iredell-Statesville Schools rank 106th out of about 114 and close by, Mooresville schools ranking 100 out of about 114 in 2007-2008 per pupil spending excluding nutrition programs.

It begs the question, though, of what is the quality of that education, as both systems tout the quality of the education they provide. There are some great parts of the system that we have benefitted from- two of our children are thriving in a strong elementary school, and another is doing well in that IB program that succeeds despite the lukewarm support of the Iredell County school board. There are other parts that are more of an issue- overcrowding of schools in some areas and open seats in others, and the increasing student to teacher ratios all around. We have one daughter being home schooled, in large part because of the substantial social challenges she has faced with bullying in school. So it is not all roses, either. Of course, quality measures are debated far and wide, I choose to highlight those from, (I welcome comments about their impartiality or lack thereof- seems to me in my review to be fairly straightforward in advocating for education in general and providing feedback and comparisons). Based on their information, we’re doing adequately considering our spend, but there’s an opportunity to do even better. We scored a “C+”; or 77.8 on their numerical score. That put us above the US average of 76.3, and scores ranged from Maryland’s 87.6, and Nebraska’s 68.6.

Dr. Nutting noted in her email that in her estimation we’re providing a great ROI in terms of spend and what is delivered for that spend. I commend her and others in our local education system for that ROI. My personal feeling, however, is that the state and the county are frankly derelict and shortsighted in their funding for our children’s education. I agree that there isn’t a 1:1 correlation between spend and quality, but I firmly believe if our system can do as well as it does given how little we spend, we could do even better with greater investment. One can also argue that the ROI will decrease with greater expenditures, but all things being equal, greater investment should lead to greater returns, and it appears that our leaders either don’t buy into that rationale, or feel they are representing the voice of the people who don’t want to make these investments.

Our school system and associated parent teacher organizations or other volunteer groups spend far too much time in fundraising mode (or working at the school for free), and I’d rather they focus on education. I’m not going to list all of the fundraising approaches they use, some clever, some less interesting, some almost offensive or demeaning.

Of all of the different ways we’d like our government to invest in our future, from zoning and permits for businesses, to roads and transportation, public services from fire and police to water and waste management, I can’t think of any that is more important from a long range standpoint, than a consistent and strategic investment in education. We, quite frankly, seem to be satisfied with “good enough”. And as my child in the international baccalaureate program knows, there are more English users in India than there are in the United States.

Go ahead, kids- we’re preparing you to compete in a global world, but you know, we’re not gonna spend a lot for this education, so get out there and sell some cookie dough and we’ll cobble something together for you.

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