School Funding Fix: A Crazy Plan C

DSC00496For years Mississippi’s public schools have had trouble scrounging up cash to pay the bills.

Classrooms languish in disrepair, students go without desperately-needed instructional tech, and a brand new question is emerging: Are we using 1960’s history textbooks because we can’t afford the upgrade to 2016, or because we don’t want it?

At any rate, in the absence of adequate state-level funding, sometimes individual teachers are forced to make up the difference by spending from their own state-administered “Education Enhancement Funds” accounts. They buy paper, pencils, chalk, markers, and other essentials for classroom instruction.

There are a couple of problems with that.

  1. These accounts are heavily regulated. Teachers are only allowed to spend money on certain categories, regardless of necessity or explanation. (I once worked with a teacher who had the audacity to attempt purchasing a rated G film DVD for use in teaching Common Core Standard RL.7.7, which specifically required her to teach using films. She was challenged by our state regulators for misuse of funds. Ya know, for doing her job.)
  2. EEF money is often not enough to make up the resource gap. Many teachers run out of the funds allotted and dig into their own pockets to give their students the educational experience they need.

And that got me thinking. Looking at the Clarion Ledger’s pieces on campaign finance reform, you start to really see the disparity between the accounting standards teachers are held to, and what passes for “normal” in Jackson. Teachers are required to keep strict records on every penny they’ve spent, hanging onto the receipts for 5 years for every single purchase.  For legislators’ campaign funds, as The Clarion Ledger writers so brilliantly point out, we’re lucky if we ever hear rumors of where the money went.

… Maybe the funding fix is staring us in the face.  Maybe there is one solution to the school funding issue we haven’t considered. Clearly, waiting for adequate funding from our legislature is off the table. And a state lottery seems to be a no-go. So here goes Plan C:

Public school teaching jobs should be elected positions.

Right? We already know many of our communities will be missing the superintendent races the legislature is getting rid of. We might as well just slap teachers on there while we’re mixing things up. The ballots will be a mile long, and nobody’ll know our names, but it’s not like most of the voters care who we are anyway.

Imagine: bake sales on steroids. You think we’re #1 in obesity now? Just wait til 30,000 reelections depend on moving crates of World’s Finest chocolate and cookie dough, round the clock!  Or better yet, why even waste time with those small time vendors? Give us access to the same lobbyists our leaders get to shake hands with on public dime, and we’ll really crank up some coin!

Heck- it’ll save time!  Right now, we’ve got a Legislature that is skimming massive campaign contributions to vote however corporate interests wish on education policy decisions. Why not just cut out the middle man and invite big out-of-state money right into our classrooms? Let the charter schools and testing companies sponsor teacher election campaigns, and assign to us that same level of oversight you give our politicians. If it’s anything like the checks and balances going on in Jackson right now, teachers will hardly ever be hassled for beefing up their instruction.

Sure, this plan is a terrible idea. It’s corrupt. It’s bad policy. It’s the dumbest thing you’ve heard of.  But hey, it’s Mississippi. That’s how we roll. We might not all end up with $800 cowboy boots or second homes at Disney World, but maybe- just maybe- we’ll finally have enough money on hand to get our students what they need.

James Comans is an 8th grade science teacher in Southaven and contributor to MSEdBlog. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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