Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Cost of Education: You Get What You Pay For

What is it with these neocon Republicans? Why is it that on the one hand they decry the low performance of students in our schools, but on the other they attack a school bond proposal with box cutters.

Case in point. Fort Bend ISD is arguably one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas if not in the entire nation. Over the past few years master planned communities have sprung up where cotton fields once stood. In Fort Bend County, if you should go down a road that you haven’t been on in awhile you are bound to say at some point in your travel “when did this get built?”

The district estimates that it will need 20 new schools built within the next nine years to accommodate an additional 29,000 new students. With a current enrollment of just over 69,000 students district-wide, this represents a staggering 42% growth rate in under 10 years.

In the immediate future, it needs 7 new schools: 1 high school, 2 middle schools, and four elementary schools. Cost of construction of these is going to run about $280 million, and an additional $170 million will be needed to renovate existing structures. Throw in a few more millions for technology, vehicles and security upgrades, and it comes out to a cool $490 million, which is what the board of trustees is proposing for the November school bond initiative.

To make everything transparent, the board solicited citizen volunteers to serve on a bond steering committee. Some on the steering committee came to meetings armed with box cutters and Sears catalogs. These individuals’ interpretation of their purview was not to make sure that the community’s education interests are served, but instead some on the committee considered their principal goal was to cut costs.

One committee member triumphantly displayed her shopping skills by pointing out that the $3000 water cooler units proposed in bond package were way overblown and showed how she found an “ADA compliant” unit for $500. That victory was short-lived, however, when it was pointed out that the $3000 estimate included installation, wiring and necessary wall restructuring, and that this was an average cost for all schools.

Others in the citizenry at large complain about the “marble floors”, the marble being actually terrazzo, a common floor material found in public buildings everywhere. Terrazzo is cheap, durable and when you fall on it, it doesn’t scrape your skin raw.

Neocons on the steering committee are turning a good thing – public participation in a process to ensure that their children are getting the education that they need – into a bad thing – slashing at a proposal that they assume from the outset is wasteful and bloated.

I get tired of hearing about it. By the standard of dollars spent per student, all things being considered (including construction costs), Texas ranks 41st in the nation. Other standards have the state ranked even lower. By contrast, Vermont, which ranks #1 in the nation in terms of 21 educational factors that include test performance (Texas ranks 24th in the same list) spends over $4300 more per student than does Texas.

The message is clear: you get what you pay for.

So next time you hear someone piss and moan about their high taxes and the costs of servicing school bond issues, and at the same time complain about students’ low test performance numbers, ask them which do they prefer, driving that gas guzzling SUV to work or having their child get into a good university?


TXsharon said...

What's happening to education is frightening! We're going to have a lot more stupid people in the years to come. =(

Monica Roberts said...

That's what happens when you have peeps who HATE public education involved in the process of running public schools.

And sometimes I wonder if they read that study that found that the more highly educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.