Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

FUNding Part II


I am not going to pretend to understand the complexity of budgeting a school but I do know one thing: education costs money. It is unfortunate that too often school funding is tied to success of a test or something just as inane. These folks frequently point to states which pay “teachers well” and “fund schools well” more than other states and then also point to the dismal performance these schools have on “the national report card.” Then they point to states that under fund their schools and under pay teachers that have reasonable success on “the national report card.” (I am not sure who actually comes up the this report card or how it was done, but you can bet politicians and the media had something to do with it.) Two that get that comparison is Michigan, one of the highest funded per student states and low on the report card, and my own home state of Colorado, one of the lowest funded per student states and doing okay on the report card.

Colorado has an amendment called the TABOR Amendment or sometimes called the Bruce Amendment. It has effectively gutted funding for education in the state. The only reason Colorado does as well as it does has nothing to do with its self-vaunted test or standards and everything to do with talented and dedicated people it has in the classroom and a reasonably okay standard of living.  Those things are about to change. The funding has reached a point where Colorado, once funding schools in the middle of the pack has dropped to 48th in the nation. This is a similar law that gutted California’s financing too. Even the greatest of teachers cannot make silk purses from sow’s ears for equipment, books and supplies. The results will be that kids ultimately suffer and with cost of living in the state and salaries frozen, cut or class sizes  doubled, the beauty that is Colorado will only remain attractive for so long.

The TABOR Amendment or the Tax Amendment Bill Of Rights Amendment (if you want to know how intelligent such an amendment is consider that someone actually named it the tax amendment amendment) is the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the nation. While it works poorly in the best of times, during poor economic times it ratchets back the ability of all state, county and city governments to respond to crisis and fund service areas which include schools, fire, police, roads and a host of other areas. It is the Tea Party ideal of austerity in that its formula causes government to be unable to grow enough to fund more and more expensive programs. It uses money formulas based on decades old figures. In other words we are now asking schools to teach at today’s prices by funding them with less money than they had ten years ago. Sound insane to you?

I have a book that was given to me years ago about building your own lighting system. In the book was a wonderful thing called a saltwater dimmer. I was lucky that I didn't need a dimmer and that I had heard a couple of old theatre guys joke once that they had survived saltwater dimmers.

“Why?” I asked.

They smiled and one said, “Chemistry.”

I was baffled and it clearly showed. The other noticed, “Water- H2O, and salt-NaCl make up salt water. Do recall what happens when you shoot electricity through an atom?”

“It, umm, causes recombination of the charged particles,” I said trying to recall my freshmen year of college chemistry.

“Exactly. The result of putting electricity through saltwater is a making of hydrochloric acid, HCl, in gas form. It is highly flammable…you know, explosive.”

It dawned on me. A saltwater dimmer’s byproduct was an explosive gas in a contained cylinder that arced sparks of electricity through a solution that was producing hydrochloric gas.  Kaboom!

I would tell this story to my technical theatre students and show them pictures of a saltwater dimmer. The point is as the funding is cut more and more for schools across the nation, I wouldn't want to show kids a picture of an IPad or a modern dimming system because someone thought we need to fund as we had in the past when things were "better."

I lived through some of that past and it wasn't really that much better or do I need to remind you of Vietnam, mass protests, Watergate, Iran Contra, high interest rates, high unemployment, high taxes**, the AIDS epidemic and Disco.

**Check your facts you 80’s and Reagan fans: Mortgage Interest Rates were above 13-14% in 1984, Unemployment was 8 to 9.5% and Reagan raised taxes seven of the eight years he was in office.