The Black Hole of Education Funding

Another scintillating opinion piece from the IR today, this time waffling mightily about education funding in Montana. The esteemed writers of this piece have concluded, no doubt after an extensive scientific survey, that Montanans believe that education funding disappears into a black hole in Montana:

Politically, the governor is on firm ground. There is a growing perception among Montanans — and not just fiscal conservatives — that school funding is becoming a black hole into which money disappears no matter how much is appropriated. Of course the situation is far more complicated than that, but these days the onus is on school officials to explain their financial plight in ways that both political leaders and the average Montanan can understand.

I love the passivity of the claim about the growing perceptions of Montanans, framed in such a way as to suggest that it’s an organic groundswell of criticism from the public. Perhaps the constant drumbeat from the Right and the media’s willingness to uncritically repeat it might have something to do with that perception, if it’s even true.

More importantly, the IR is engaging in the same kind of demagoguery that the Right has been employing for years. Rather than actually offering specific proposals for financial savings in the schools or critiquing examples of wrongful expenditures, the IR and the Republicans it is channeling are content to offer vague criticism that means nothing.

So, I offer a challenge to the IR and other critics of education. What specific changes would you make to save money?

  • Fewer books?
  • Fewer teachers?
  • Decreased salaries?
  • Something else?

We’ll never have real dialogue about education funding in this state until the critics do the ethically responsible thing and propose real changes.

I won’t hold my breath.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • By your standard – more money is better – do you agree that there is no amount of money that is too much for education? I mean, if I say $100 billion, you can say $200 billion and demand to know which books I want to cut. Of course, I could always trump your $200 billion with $900 gazillion…

  • Personally, I’d get rid of teachers (starting, of course, with eco rangers) and books (other than the Bible). Maybe heat in the winter too. Truth is, I think that adversity builds character in our kids – they should be working for their survival. I mean as long as we’re dealing in false dilemmas, I might as well take your fallacy all the way to the end and have some fun…

  • I recall reading in earlier articles (in the IR), that a good deal of the extra funding is going towards teachers’ salaries, meaning more teachers, meaning smaller class sizes, meaning generally more effective education. This does not strike me as a black hole.

    But I guess I’d be comfortable with MTSentinel’s monastic education, too. God and me is a pretty good teacher-student ratio. 🙂

  • Good to see such responsible advocacy, from you, MTSentinel.

    God forbid that you actually engage in the debate in a meaningful way, and admit that the rhetoric about the black hole of school funding is a lot easier than actually identifying places where cuts could be made.

    You know, school budgets are public information. You, the IR editors, and the Republican establishment might actually do some good if you bothered to actually read the budgets.

  • Maybe less time and money on administering standardized tests and focus on methods that will exploit the best methods of learning for each individual child?

    Also, what about opt-in procomp methods like Colorado is using, as opposed to tenure based salary? As a teacher, what do you think of that?

    Just a thought.

  • Pogie, I’m very interested in “debate” but not on the artificial grounds you’re trying to put me on be setting up a false dilemma. You’re arguing education within the current system. I’d prefer a much larger systemic overhaul of the system that encourages results and efficiency while discouraging waste. I like vouchers and school choice.

  • You’re begging the question, though. What waste? What inefficiency?

    This is why I get so frustrated debating education. It’s presumed, much like it was in this article, that there is enormous waste in the current system.

    My question, before we talk about alternatives, is what waste exists in the current system?

    I’m not saying there isn’t any, but I think we need to move past the assumption that the private sector is inherently efficient and the public sector isn’t to actually discuss what kinds of waste we are talking about.

    I think Montana is a long way away from school choice and vouchers, given practical concerns, so what can we do to make the current system better?

  • Shane,

    Truthfully, something like eliminating standardized testing would be a very small expenditure.

    I think I would definitely consider alternative compensation schemes. Ironically, though, I would want them based on standardized tests or some other measurable achievement, rather than evaluations.

    We have the tools available to tell which teachers are helping their students gain skills; if we used those measures, then performance pay would be great.

  • Can someone please show me where the money is going to now? A couple of years ago, the statistics that I remember say that the State pays almost $9,000 per pupil per year. That’s not counting any local levies nor any federal money. In a classroom with 20 students, that means that the State is paying $180,000 per year. If the teacher is getting $35k, where is the rest of the money going?
    In order to plead the case for more education funding, we need to know how and where it is being spent now.
    From the looks of it, overhead in the form of management seems to be the biggest draw, but you won’t find anyone who will actually say what the amounts are.

  • I really recommend you just ask your local district. They have to provide budget information.

    In fact, the OPI web page has information about every district in the state.

    Your per student numbers are a little high, though. The number is somewhere around $8,000 total–including local and state allocations.

  • Steve-

    I would be interested in seeing what portion of any business is spent on ‘on the ground’ employees, and what portion goes to overhead.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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