Below is a submission from a LYS Superintendent:
I am reminded of the customer who enters an engine shop and wants a 1) high performance engine; 2) that is reliable enough to drive daily; and 3) is inexpensive to build. The old saying is pick any two of the three; the third is compromised. Inexpensive and fast will not be reliable. Inexpensive and reliable will not be fast. Reliable and fast will not be inexpensive. You get the idea.I suspect such a relationship exists in public school finance. We have three competing priorities: efficiency, effectiveness, and equity. Each of these competing priorities are complex and subject to interpretation, but I will weigh in.First, let’s address efficiency. Of the three it is the only priority required by the Texas Constitution. In the modern context many argue that the framers of the Texas Constitution meant for efficiency to be translated as equitable. I am not convinced, but I do know attorneys make a living in the intricacies of such language, and I am not an attorney. I think efficient, in the financial sense, means getting the most output from the money put into the system. There is friction in any system, and friction causes inefficiency. In organizations, friction almost always increases with organizational size and complexity. As more is demanded from an organization, size and complexity are almost sure to increase.Second, we will discuss effectiveness. In the simplest terms I can think of, effectiveness is determined by the mandates and accountability standards required of schools. To be sure, adding mandates is likely to increase organizational size and complexity. And, as we have discussed, if organization size and complexity increases, “friction” increases, and the system is likely to be less efficient. In this example we are beginning to see the interdependence of efficiency, effectiveness, and equity.Third, we have perhaps the most misunderstood American idea: equity, or it’s cousins, equality and fairness. I don’t care to get into a discussion of the historical context of equality or equity. Certainly I believe our current definition of equality does not match the definition of equality our country was founded upon, but that is a different discussion. In context of Texas school funding equity seems to be interpreted as fair and equal. Equity is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, because equity to one person may very well seem inequitable to another. People living in high property wealth districts think it is pretty inequitable that their tax dollars get redistributed to property poor districts across the state. People living in property poor districts want their children to have the same opportunities that other children have. In the end it becomes a question of how much equity, or inequity, will be tolerated. As one person’s equity is often another’s inequity, there has to be a balance, otherwise a revolt begins. I believe we are in the midst of such a revolt in Texas and perhaps across the nation. In order to fund property poor districts at a sufficient level, taxation and redistribution of taxation has reached a point deemed intolerable and inequitable by the people paying the bulk of taxes. That is a problem. On the other end, state demands for increased school effectiveness for all children creates a demand for an ever increasing stream of funding in order to create organizations that will meet the effectiveness requirements. As funding increases and organizations grow in size and complexity the organizations become less efficient. Clearly the imbalance is driven by ever increasing state demands for effectiveness, the need for taxation cash flow to pay for the effectiveness, and the amount of taxation and redistribution of taxation that will be tolerated. The question now is, how much effectiveness and equity can we afford?So we get to the trifecta I suspect exists, a trifecta that is making it virtually impossible for Texan’s to resolve the school funding issue.A system that is highly efficient and highly effective will not likely be highly equitable. The amount of funds needed and the redistribution of those funds will leave one group feeling disenfranchised.A system that is highly efficient and highly equitable will likely not be highly effective. Some of the mandates and accountability standards would have to be relaxed, hence compromising effectiveness.A system that is highly equitable and highly effective will not likely be highly efficient, as the cost to maintain the high effectiveness will require a tremendous amount of organizational structure and complexity.So where does that leave us? Clearly the public has little stomach for more taxation. That limits the amount of effectiveness that can be squeezed out of the school system. We seem to be at a point where the State of Texas can not afford the level of effectiveness it wants from public schools. It also seems the amount of income redistribution that will be tolerated by the public has reached an imbalance in equity. One solution is:Roll back mandates and accountability to a manageable, affordable level.
This will require less money and redistribution of money, which will likely ease the imbalance of equity.
This will also lead to a more efficient system as schools will need less organizational size and complexity.Of course there are other solutions, but the point is a three legged stool can be balanced, if the legs are strategically placed.Mike Seabolt Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…
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