Leave it to the Guv
To call it like it is, or should be
FOR YEARS there’s been a segment of education-watchers who’ve said build, build, build. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and Arkansas will have some great schools. Or at least expensive ones.
There’s been another segment of education-watchers, just as concerned with the next generation, who have questioned whether buildings, buildings, buildings should be the priority.
Before we get the angry letters, let’s stipulate that a kid isn’t going to learn much if the January wind is blowing through his coat, and his bones. Or if the August heat is baking him in his seat. And faulty wiring? Leaking toilets? Holes in roofs? When the rest of us find that—anywhere in the education system—let’s put that first thing on the to-do list.
But, and there’s always a but, the important thing is—the priority should be—teachers and principals. That should be the focus everywhere, because they make the most difference.
See charter schools operating in former newspaper offices or churches. Without football fields. See other virtual schools with no buildings at all.
Last week, the governor of Arkansas spoke before an advisory committee on school buildings. Or as it is creatively called, the Advisory Committee on Public School Academic Facilities. (We’ll get some poets in education yet.)
The governor noted that the state has spent $3.2 billion since 2006 for buildings in the traditional public school systems, thanks to the state Supreme Court and Lake View. Of that $3.2 billion, a third of it has come from the state.
And the state can’t keep spending $100 million every year on new school buildings.
“You’ve got to think about how do people learn today . . . . ” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “and how should facilities be adjusted to be more efficient in light of how people learn. We can’t sustain that every year after we meet the needs of our state whenever you take $100 million of growth money, of new money, and say it’s going in facilities.”
Thank you, governor. No legalese in that statement.
In a perfect world, where money grows on trees, we’d like every school in Arkansas to be brand-new. But in this world, how pay for prisons, roads, transportation, Medicaid, parks upkeep, and all the other state responsibilities, too?
Build buildings when we must. Repair them, keep them up to standards. Keep them safe for the students.
And focus, focus, focus on getting the best teachers and principals into those schools. Through merit pay, recognition, relaxation of union rules, flexibility for principals in hiring, etc.
Then stand back. The kids might shock you.