Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Education > Cutting school budgets could get expensive

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.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on August 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

10 Responses to “Cutting school budgets could get expensive”

  1. susan alexander says:

    I am curious if Williamstown is actually a very smart choice since most parents are commuting out of town anyway and reducing carbon emissions via the bus is environmentally prudent. Better to cut the bus than the books. Has anyone measured this to see if it is a net gain for community rather than assume it isn’t?

  2. Willem Post says:

    What is needed is a reduction in non-teaching personnel.

    Student/teacher ratios should be raised to about 20, as it was when I was in grade and high school.

    Student/non-teaching personne ratiol has exploded in the past ten years.

    Salaries and gold-plated, benefits far exceed the private sector

  3. Your description of the Reagan legacy is well described.

  4. Excellent description of the Reagan legacy.

  5. grace johnstone says:

    Great perspective, Jack; thanks for putting the point on the table!

  6. Edward Deegan says:

    Overall spending on education in Vermont as a percentage of domestic output is about the same as it always has been. Education is not eating up the economy as the governor has implied numerous times. Prison costs, and healthcare cost are increasing at an alarming rate, healthcare is taking up more and more of our resources, education is not, prison cost are taking up 3 times the amount they did of our state budget in the last decade. $50,000 + for in state prisoners. We need to stop complaining about education cost.

  7. Robert Rich says:

    I called and spoke with Jack Hoffman and asked him if he could give me the names of the political candidates who are insisting that education is a luxury we cannot afford. He couldn’t give me a single name. What does that tell you? It tells me it’s fiction.

  8. Robert Rich says:

    I made a post on Friday that has been removed. That doesn’t bode well for free speech at PAI. My comment was that upon calling Jack Hoffman and asking for the names of politicians who are insisting education is a luxury we cannot afford, he could not name a single one. This leads me to believe that these alleged politicians are merely strawmen created to assist the author in making his points. The thing is we have allowed politicians to create and indecipherable embarrassment of an education funding system. Almost any change would be an improvement.

  9. Sarah Lyons says:

    Comments are reviewed prior to posting to assure that they conform to our comment policy (the policy appears just below the blog comment form). The blog monitor processes comments as quickly as possible during office hours–not on holiday weekends. As the policy states, we welcome opinions from all points of view, but we hope that this forum is one of constructive observation and criticism.

  10. Willem Post says:

    Stop whining about budgets.

    The unemployment rate of Education, Health and Government workers, all getting great benefits compared to other workers, is 2%, the rest of workers 9.5%

    The US spends 2 times the amount per student than Europe and is 15th place or worse in most categories.

    The US spends 2 times the amount on healthcare per capita, but does not insure about 50
    million people.

    The US spends 50% of ALL the defense money spent in the world. The should be cut down to about 25%

    The US rewards the top 1% of households way more than other nations