Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Crisis and Opportunity

School district budget override failures open door for creativity

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

The patience of the Arizona taxpayer is not infinite. Voters sent a clear message last week in school bond and budget override elections, defeating 22 such measures while passing only 11. Some of those passed were by very narrow margins. Some of the budget overrides that were defeated had been in place for decades.

There has already been a steady stream of news stories about districts struggling to deal with a new fiscal reality. This situation reminds me that the Chinese use the same symbol for crisis and opportunity.

School districts overflowing with students but whose voters rejected new debt for buildings should consider opening charter schools. This would allow districts to make use of existing space in the community without going millions into debt to build new facilities.

Some districts will be facing maintenance and operations shortfalls, and fear they won't be able to hire enough teachers. Research shows children are much better off in a large classroom with a high quality teacher than in a small class with a less talented instructor. A skilled administrator could manage teacher attrition over time and help kids by giving high quality teachers more students.

We cannot spend our way to great schools. We have tried and failed. Real spending per pupil in Arizona public schools has more than tripled since 1960 with little to no academic results to speak of. This does not mean we cannot have great schools, but it's time to take the focus off funding.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.

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