I’m sitting at my desk in Olympia answering email, mostly about the budget. Lots of people are writing in about different subjects, but all have the same theme – protect MY program. This is pretty interesting and useful data, but it’s hard to make decisions based on it.
For example, I get a lot of mail about preserving “gifted education”. The state sends out tens of millions in this category every year, with an equal amount going to every district based on student population. State funding makes up about 15% of what is spent in this area every year, so 85% of the money is coming from local sources, mostly your local levies. The state budget line item is about $30 million per year, or about 0.3% of annual state school budgets. There are many other programs that distribute money the same way – evenly based on student count.
Ever think about why we don’t just combine all of these small items into one single pot?
Districts would have more flexibility in how to spend money and would have several fewer pages in the school accounting bible that they have to comply with. Districts are still going to run gifted programs because their parents want them – witness all the email I get. School board members get elected or unelected based on programs like this because the parents tend to be highly organized.
The thing you can’t use this data for is figuring out the relative impact of a program on the community. For example bilingual education is hugely important to help kids who grow up in households that don’t speak English take advantage of our education system, but you don’t hear from their parents in email.
Don’t get me wrong – I value the gifted program in the school districts I represent. My kids took advantage of enrichment in Bellevue and school would have been a poorer place for them without the extra stimulation. We should think about how to have these programs without making school budgets complex beyond belief and requiring local districts to do lots of compliance work.