by Wayne Lutz
September 1st, 2001
A recent news item on the front page of a local newspaper excited my neural synapses into a state of outrage, although that outrage was aimed in a direction not intended by the author of the article, I've no doubt.
An 11th grade female in Abington High School, Abington, Pennsylvania, had lodged a series of complaints with the school board. She was upset that the boy's sports teams had new uniforms every year, while the girls track team had to put up with old ones. She was upset that the boy's football team traveled to away games by luxury motor coach, while they rode in <shudder> school buses.
She was embarrassed that other school teams would not come to Abington for meets, because Abington had a gravel track, and those others refused to run on lowly gravel.
She was offended that, while on away games, the members of the girls team were given only ten dollars each for lunch, and "have you ever tried to buy lunch for only ten dollars?"
Well, yes, actually. With the obscene and confiscatory property taxes that I pay, I can't afford any more. Less, actually. I suppose it depends on where one chooses to dine.
While the author of the article obviously intended that I share in the young lady's outrage, I found myself turning various (and lovely) shades of purple for a very different reason.
The outrage here is not that the girls travel by school bus but that anyone travels by motor coach.
The outrage is that, in an age of exponentially increasing school expenses when school taxes are driving many out of their homes, especially the elderly, year-old uniforms aren't good enough.
The outrage is that the school provides any cash at all for lunch, not that the amount is insufficient to support the culinary tastes to which this young lady has apparently become accustomed.
The outrage is that, while this school district voted for and approved a whopping increase in property taxes this year for a total budget of seventy-seven and one-half million dollars, the Abington School District administration building is bedecked with marble columns and floors, plush carpeting and fine furniture.
Ain't no marble in my house. Can't afford it.
School districts across the nation are implementing budgets and raising taxes at a level that would make Ted Kennedy blush. Abington, as an example of suburban schools, boasts excellence in academic achievement. But the awful secret is that academic achievement is not tied to expenditures. Marble columns and motor coaches, lunch at Le Bec-Fin, yes, they require money. Academic achievement does not.
Washington, DC, has the third highest expenditures of any school district in the nation, and they rank dead last in achievement.
Connecticut also spends high, but achieves high - 4th highest in expenditures and first in achievement.
Colorado spends low - 31st out of 51 in expenses. But behold, they are 8th highest in achievement, and Montana, which spends 25th out of 51, is in first place in achievement.
What's wrong with this picture, boys and girls?
The picture, of course, is distorted by a focus on bureaucracy, student amenities, and fine dining, at the expense of hard learning and teacher accountability.
The Abington School District spends fully $8,000 per year, per student. The national average is about $6,000. Private schools outperform their government-run counterparts on about half that amount. And home schools, the best of all in academic achievement, find themselves having to make do with whatever meager amounts might be left over after the tax man has confiscated their money to pay for the public school's luxury motor coaches.
One day the elite educational establishment will wake up to the fact that the public purse is not bottomless, and that Joe citizen is not so ill informed as to believe that the plight of the children can be solved only by throwing more money at it. The citizens who foot the bills will rebel against feeding gourmet food to track stars while they eat beans, and whiny students who complain about a lack of the finer things will no longer be given public credence with all of the concomitant hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, but will be told to shut up, sit down and crack a book.