by David Safier
The Goldwater Institute's Education Director, Jonathan Butcher, only has one problem with Jan Brewer's Performance Funding plan. It doesn't reward the wealthy and punish the poor nearly enough.
That's not how he put it, of course, when he wrote about his qualified support for SB1444, Brewer's Performance funding plan in bill form. Simply giving money -- excuse me, "Throwing money" -- at schools is absurd, he says. What we need is "incentive funding" that gives extra funding to schools with high state grades and little or nothing to schools with lower grades. The bug in this system -- which G.I., Brewer, Craig Barrett, et al, consider a feature -- is that schools with high income students are virtually guaranteed to get a state score of A or B while only a few schools on the low income side get better than a C. Under the plan, an average school in Scottsdale or the Catlina Foothills would get between $200 and $300 extra per student, while an exceptional school in the poorer areas of Tucson would only get between $75 and $150 extra, and average schools with poor students would get little or nothing. Schools can also get a temporary funding bump for improvement, but after a few years of improvement, they'll hit a ceiling, and their funding will fall.
Butcher doesn't think the class warfare in Brewer's plan is nearly brutal enough. He wants to "refine our school grading process" by raising the bar further so only the schools with the very highest scores get an A. That would boost the reward for the richest schools at the same time it made public schools look worse by dumping more of them into the C, D and F range.
Butcher, G.I., and ALEC (where Butcher recently presented a model bill that would take Title 1 money targeted for poor students and use it to create what is essentially a privatization handbook) believe in screwing over the poor and rewarding the rich. But they try to hide their agenda from the public by pretending that being born poor is not a handicap. If poor kids can't achieve at the same level as rich kids, conservatives maintain, it's their own damn fault, or it's the fault of failing public schools that don't know how to teach. It's a pack of lies, but it has its own internal logic that allows self-satisfied conservatives feel even more satisfied with themselves.