Leave it to the Guv

To call it like it is, or should be

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

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.

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