Sometimes members of a funding body, like our Board of Supervisors, believe in reform too, but don't have the authority to enact it. Sometimes they anticipate that reform will save money. So they put these components together and decide that if they just cut funding, the school system will of necessity reform itself to handle the cuts. Supervisor Lori Waters in particular has expressed that she will not favor an increase in school funding toward employee salary increases until those salaries are based on performance instead of seniority.
While I agree that the compensation structure needs reform, that is a long-term project that can't be accomplished during a budget season. More importantly, it can't be inspired by budget cuts. Witness California's experience with Proposition 13, which in 1978 limited property taxes. Does the following sound familiar?
A large contributor to Proposition 13 was the sentiment that older Californians should not be priced out of their homes through high taxes.So property taxes in California are now capped, and school funding has decreased. What impact has this had on California schools? Are they paragons of efficiency and reform? I did a little checking.
In a recent study of public school efficiency by the Center for American Progress, California school district scores were from 26 to 94, with only three districts scoring 90 or higher. Virginia schools districts were all ranked between 70 and 95, with 35 scoring 90 or higher. Loudoun scored 93.
Digging more, I found a report by the Rand Corporation called Ultimate Test:
One state, California, serves as an especially compelling case study. Widely regarded as one of the best systems of education in the country as recently as 30 years ago, the California public school system has since become, according to most measures, one of the worst.
By reviewing the recent history of California’s public schools, their precipitous decline, and their potential for revival, policymakers nationwide can learn important lessons about how to manage public schools. Today, for example, the citizens of California need long-term, comprehensive solutions, beginning with an improved financing system that can tap into what the state can really afford and that can then provide the resources that the schools really need.
Whether at the national or at the state level, public education needs both accountability and resources. Although providing resources without demanding accountability can lead to a waste of resources, demanding accountability without providing adequate resources can be an evasion of accountability by setting up public schools for failure. (emphasis mine)Anecdotally, while a number of Loudoun residents have written to say that Loudoun's schools are far superior to those their kids attended in California, I've never had any write to me to say that their schools in California were better.
Candidates for Supervisor Malcom Gladwell and Janet Clarke expressed publicly at a recent public hearing on the budget that the schools must be reformed, and that as officeholders they would use the budget to do just that. This will be the first time but not the last time in this election year that I remind candidates for Supervisor that if they want to reform the school system, they're running for the wrong office. If they want to reform it through budget cuts, they're using the wrong tool. Just ask the current Board of Supervisors, which has cut per-pupil school funding by over 15%, and still have not seen the reforms they hoped for.
The School Board must be the body that reforms Loudoun County Public Schools. It will do so only of its own will, not because of funding cuts. The will comes only if the community asks for reform, not because of funding cuts. If Loudoun, as a community, wants to see reform efforts in its public schools, it must demand it of its School Board. It must elect reform-minded School Board candidates.
In the meantime, it must fully fund its schools, or watch the quality of those schools decline.