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Education reform agenda expands Columbia County Board of Education

Education reform agenda expands Columbia County Board of Education

Last month, the Columbia County Board of Education approved a resolution calling for an investigation into how the county’s schools are managed. The resolution calls for the board to “examine and review all matters relating to the operations of the schools and formulate recommendations for changes that will strengthen the institution.” Currently, the county has five school districts. Of those, three are publicly funded through vouchers; the fourth is a publicly funded but privatized business.

According to the resolution, “a lack of transparency and a sense of urgency are the key issues” with these three boards. And the board further determined that these problems are “unacceptable,” and called on the state to take over the three failing schools until it can find solutions. In addition to the charter school request, the board also called for an investigation into how the county-funded public schools manage discipline and teacher staffing levels.

Naturally, this all sounds like a bunch of hokum, but the fact is that charter schools across the country have been underfunded for decades, if not centuries. Many states have shut down schools that are very effective, while others have cut school funding during tough economic times. As a result, these schools have a very difficult time serving students, generating great test scores, and maintaining a high graduation rate. In some cases, the very schools that provide open educational opportunities for those who cannot otherwise afford them are being shuttered.

Meanwhile, the Columbia County board is also proposing a countywide lottery to raise money for various purposes. Unfortunately, the lottery will be administered by lottery officials from around the country, rather than the county board itself. But the lottery will still generate an enormous amount of extra cash. It seems like a poor use of resources, especially when charter school advocates are quick to point out the proven success of these schools. Critics argue that there simply is no need for additional funding.

Perhaps the Columbia County board is simply trying to placate the public by providing a bit of stimulus for the failing schools in the county. But the fact remains that most state legislators have refused to provide school funding for many years. They simply don’t realize that it is time for state and county authorities to band together.

Many state lawmakers want to cut funding for K-12 education, but few know how to replace those cuts with enough money to make colleges affordable for low-income families. In some states, the problem has been that tax dollars are going to school systems that are already in trouble. They are simply transferring educational responsibility from one sector of the state to another. In some cases, the problem goes so far as to create a “feedback loop,” whereby the education bureaucracy benefits from a lack of student funds because they can then claim that poor students are getting a sub-par education in public schools. This is a circular argument that re-forces the argument that K-12 education in the US is broken. It is a “no go” state.

The county board chair tells the legislature that the board is willing to make some changes so long as those changes do not hurt the poor and needy children in the district. How she could come to that conclusion is hard to understand. She knows that the current funding system isn’t working and that Columbia County schools need better funding to make up for lost funding from the federal government. The state legislature has passed some limits on how much each district can raise per pupil, but the board chair apparently believes that these limitations are unfair. At any rate, she is unwilling to entertain the idea that the state has an interest in improving educational standards in the county.

A compromise that might make sense between the state board chair and the county board would be to allow the state to temporarily increase funding for the Columbia School District by an additional $1 million per year until a new school building is built in the county. Of course, that idea seems to fly in the face of the board chair and her willingness to increase taxes in order to provide the district with sufficient funds. Does the county have to take the blame for the mess that the state board and state legislature made? Perhaps not, but if the voters want to remove the board from the oversight of the state board then they should vote them out.