Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dollars in the Classroom Audit Old News

Senator Debbie McCune Davis (D-14)

So apparently, the Republicans want to punish school districts with high administrative costs by cutting $40 million dollars from their funding. What is their guide? Have they failed to notice that they cut $133 million from K-12 education in the ’09 budget fix at the end of January? Do they think those cuts were made without impacting administrative costs? No matter how you look at it or how many questions you ask, you cannot get around the fact that the infamous utility lobby inspired audit is old news.

But, let’s get back to asking important questions. Why do those who are fond of the audit as a bludgeoning tool fail to mention the correlation between poverty and higher administrative costs? One school administrator talked to me after the “dollars in the classroom” auditors had visited their district. The description was reminiscent of a visit from paramilitary forces … “just step aside and remain silent while we declare your mentors, counselors, social workers and nurses administrative flotsam and jetsam that bloat your district budget. Don’t tell me that the social indicators of poverty increase the burden of a school district in providing educational support to a child.”

Then there is the issue of examining all Arizona school districts as if they are equal in size, shape and geography. An audit that compared apples to apples would significantly have more value. Where is the analysis that compares one of large district to another? How do charter schools compare to small school district? What is the average administrative cost of charter schools of like size? Where do grants fit into administrative costs? If a district receives a grant to upgrade the skills of their workforce or meet special needs, does that drive down the percentage of dollars in the classroom? So many questions so little time!

The recently leaked Republican budgets aim their artillery at school districts that purportedly had high administrative costs in 2008. When will they figure out that their target has moved and their weapon has substantial destructive power on a fragile educational system? Let us hope it is not after the fact. I do not think Arizonans will allow Republicans to claim plausible deniability every time they pass a budget bill.

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