The stock market may be doing well, but that does not mean families are having the best year ever. Take, for instance, the families of Colorado, where many lower-income moms and dads are struggling to pay skyrocketing back-to-school expenses, according to a report in The Denver Post.
Budget cuts apparently have forced school systems to require parents to purchase supplies once provided by districts. Meanwhile, the cost of extracurricular activities has increased from 68 to 88 percent, depending on the grade level. Throw in rent, utilities, food and things such as health insurance — and you’re talking budget busters for families.
“The evidence tells us that two seemingly contradictory things are both true,” noted Inez Stepman, director of Education and Workforce Development at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Arlington, Virginia, in an interview with LifeZette. “First, there are real shortages in classrooms across the country, and second, we — the United States — spend a ton of money on education and have among the highest per-pupil funding amounts in the first world.”
But how can these both be true?
“The money isn’t going to the classroom,” Stepman told LifeZette. “It’s going toward a 138-percent increase in non-teaching administrative staff, while student population has increased only 8 percent over the same period. It’s also going toward a ballooning pension problem.”
Pointing to Illinois as an example, Stepman said 89 cents out of every new dollar spent on education goes to pension costs — leaving just 11 cents for all classroom expenses, including teachers’ salaries and even back-to-school supplies.
“As Bob Bowden’s excellent documentary ‘The Cartel’ showed, there is plenty of waste, fraud, and abuse going on in districts across the country, from nonexistent teacher’s aides on the payroll to cushy contracts going to family members of city council members.”
OK, but should public schools pay for everything a student needs or uses in the classroom?
“Parents are and always will be primarily responsible for their children’s educations. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable, given the massive taxpayer investment already going toward public schools, to be irate that families and even teachers also have to buy their own pencils,” said Stepman.
Speaking of pencils, all students at one school in Colorado were asked to bring five dozen pencils on their first day of class to increase the school’s depleting supply, as The Denver Post reported. So students are, in essence, stocking the shelves of the school system, not necessarily stocking their own lockers or cubbies. And what happens when the poorer, lower-income students — at least some of whom may be illegal immigrants — can’t afford to do this? Then what?
Here’s why there’s frustration, as The Denver Post reported:
Jefferson County schools superintendent Jason Glass said Colorado’s school-funding formulas leave districts with few alternatives to passing supply costs to parents. Measures such as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment prevent schools from netting state and local tax revenue to help supply classrooms, said Glass, and that forces schools to ask parents to bear more educational costs.
“Unfortunately, those passing on of fees and supplies disproportionately impacts working-class and other families struggling with their family income,” Glass said.
Stepman told LifeZette, “The frustration [of families who must fortify the supplies of the schools] is justified, but let’s look at where the taxpayer investment is actually going instead of assuming it’s just too low. More taxpayer dollars directed into the same system are likely to be allocated in the same lopsided manner as it is currently.”
So what does she suggest the state of Colorado do to help its schools and families?
“Colorado should put families back in charge of all the funds the state spends on their children’s educations, instead of just demanding money for school supplies,’ she said. “In Arizona, Florida, and other states with education savings account programs, parents have shown that they are better stewards of education dollars than bureaucrats.”
Chris Woodward is a reporter for American Family News and OneNewsNow.com. Based in Mississippi, he is also a contributor to OneMillionDads.com and EngageMagazine.net and a regular contributor to LifeZette.