While I am just an English teacher in a public high school and not someone who received an education at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, my public education in the Shelby Public Schools did teach me basic arithmetic quite well. I can add, subtract, and even handle the occassional story problem thanks to the tender ministrations of people like my first grade teacher Mrs. Markuson and other committed teachers who were willing to spend the energy necessary to educate someone who probably didn’t always make it easy on them.
Sarah Laszloffy, the 23 year old chair of the House Education Committee in the 2015 legislative session, seems to have missed some of those basics in her education, as this story in the Great Falls Tribune illustrates that her math skills when it comes to education funding come up just a little bit short.
Responding to concerns some have raised that Ms. Laszloffy might be a pawn for her father’s agenda with his Montana Family Foundation to cripple Montana’s public schools, Laszloffy told the Tribune that she supports our public schools and does not want to “defund them. Fair enough, until you look into the rest of her statement.
She also argued that we need to find ways to fund private education, presumably through the combination of tax breaks and vouchers that her father’s organization promotes at every session. From the Tribune:
The public education system has been good to her brother, but there are a lot of students out there who she believes would benefit from choice. She said there seems to be disdain for the rigor of private education, but she believes there are countless students in Montana who would jump at the chance to attend a private school if afforded the opportunity.
There are serious constitutional and equity concerns with the idea of diverting public monies to private schools, especially the religious schools that Laszloffy’s father will support, but let’s put that aside for a moment, and focus on the money. Because even though Laszloffy wants to increase funding for these unaccredited, unevaluated schools, she doesn’t want to increase overall education funding. From the Tribune:
While she doesn’t want to defund public education, Laszloffy said she doesn’t want to see funding increased, either. Public education makes up 60 percent of the state budget.
I’m not sure where in the world Ms. Laszloffy got the figure about the percentage of Montana’s state budget spent on public education, as the amount for K-12 is about 15.5% and the amount for the University system is 9.8%. One would think the person appointed to the chair of the House Education Committee would know that, but why not have the most important position for determining public education funding in the Legislature need some serious, remedial education?
And that’s why supporters of public education need to fight these proposals so strongly. If the Montana Family Foundation and the Laszloffys get their way, public education funding will certainly be cut, because you can’t divert money from an education budget to fund private schools without reducing funding for public education. Surely a big supporter of our public schools and someone whose “education has prepared her well” can see that.
Over the course of this session we’ll certainly be revisiting the serious issues that should scuttle proposals to spend public money on private education from their tendency to become engines of economic segregation to their promotion of unconstitutional religious instruction, but this Tribune story shows that the most basic issue is simple arithmetic: a conservative House, unlikely to support funding increases from our schools, can only fund private schools by subtracting funding from the public schools that have done so well for Montana students, and pretending that’s not the case simply doesn’t change the math. No miracles are going to change that.