Cutting school budgets could get expensive
As the opening day of school approaches, local school officials gear up for the next budget season, and some campaigning politicians continue to insist that education is a luxury we can no longer afford, Vermont parents and others might like to get a glimpse of the future by reading a recent New York Times article.
“Scissors, Glue, Pencils? Check. Cleaning Spray?” describes how other states are responding to the wave of school funding cuts that have occurred during this recession. Having already shifted the cost of routine school supplies onto families with schoolchildren, administrators in some states are now asking those families to pack toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies in their kids’ backpacks as they ship them off to school.
This is the kind of false savings we’re likely to see in Vermont if we allow the commissioner of education to dictate school budget amounts for every district in the state. One way to meet artificial budget targets is to simply move items off budget. Instead of buying toilet paper or Windex with tax dollars, ask local residents to pay for them. The community doesn’t save any money. In fact, without the benefit of bulk purchasing, families are likely to spend more on the supplies than the school would. But the school budget will be smaller, and we can pretend we’re better off because taxes are a fraction lower.
The school board in Williamstown recently reduced bus service in response to pressure to cut its budget. Perhaps the parents who now will have to drive their kids to schools will use less fuel than the buses, but it seems unlikely. Like many of the state budget cuts in the last couple of years, the Williamstown action will reduce school spending by shifting costs, but without a net savings to the community. It’s true that only the parents of schoolchildren will have to bear the additional cost, but that hardly seems fair when everyone has an interest in making sure our kids are well educated.
We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s declaration that government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem. Three decades of anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric have created such a phobia about taxes that we’ve lost sight of our self-interest. We pool our money to buy and operate buses because it’s the most efficient way to get kids to school in a rural state like Vermont. We don’t (yet) ask kids to bring heating oil, chalk, fax paper, toilet bowl cleaner, or dry macaroni to school because it’s cheaper and more efficient to buy that stuff in bulk. But we’ve gotten so freaked out about taxes we’ll do almost anything to avoid them—even if ends up costing the community more than the taxes would.
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