10 Ways for Rapid City to Decrease the Cost of Public Education

by Mr. Sheehy

My town is set to vote next week on whether to increase our property taxes in support of our public school system.  Many in my town have suggested that my district’s financial woes are due to mismanagement rather than an actual financial crisis; they imply that a more strategic and prudent use of public funds would solve our dilemma better than a tax increase.

They’re right, and I would like to propose a few ways we could decrease the cost of public education in my city.

1. Lower the drop-out age to 14. A few years ago our state increased the drop-out age to 18, but that was exactly the opposite from what they should have done, as it increased the number of students present in our classrooms. If we were to decrease the drop-out age to 14, we could nudge kids out of the system before they cluttered up the high schools, severely decreasing the need for expensive teachers.

2. Cut the number of requirements for graduation. The state mandates a wide number of classes that every student must take in order to earn a diploma. This includes four years of English and even fine arts credits. Cut out everything except for basic literacy and you can axe a plethora of pointless teachers who cover unnecessary topics like civics, geography, and algebra II.

3. Eliminate electives. If you want to cut costs, don’t let students take things that do not explicitly meet graduation requirements. Instead, allow them to take those classes in college, where people can foot the bill themselves and give taxpayers a break. That will eliminate the need for a wealth of teachers who teach extraneous courses like AP chemistry, AP physics, and calculus.

4. Have students buy their own materials. When you go to college, who is buying the books? The tissues? The printer paper? The students. If we’re going to send kids to college and prepare them for the next level, we should train them now by having them buy our textbooks and supplies. Sure, some kids can’t afford it, but that might encourage them to make a more affordable decision for all of us (see #1 above).

5. Online classes.  Colleges and other institutions are surviving by using online education, like MOOCS. Why can’t our teachers offer online courses? Sure, the instructional quality is low, but picture this scenario and try to comprehend how much money it could save. For one of my preps, I, an English teacher, run a ninth grade English course with 200 students enrolled. I the make sure the rigor is high and watch the work roll in. The grading can be easy–student aides could read most of it to verify that it is completed at a high school level–and as a teacher my primary duty will be data entry.  Sure, 120 or so of the students won’t be able to complete the course, but that means that 80 will have completed it at practically no cost to the district. The 120 failures can re-enroll in a face to face course and try again. Or they can explore option #1 above. It’s a win-win for everyone.

6. Increase class sizes. While teachers are quick to trot out studies about large class sizes hurting students, we all know that’s not how it works in the real world. When more people are mailing packages at Christmas, does UPS decrease the routes for their drivers? No, they hire some dimwit to ride shotgun with the regular driver and tell that driver he or she can’t afford to walk up that sidewalk. Have you ever seen your USPS mail carrier running up your sidewalk? That’s why USPS is going broke and UPS is asking what Brown can do for you. So English teachers need to take a lesson from Brown and start sprinting through that student writing. They can even hire a student aide or two to grade the essays. Ultimately they should realize that no one cares what a teacher is writing on that paper anyway, so why does it matter what the teacher is writing on there as long as it has a grade attached?

7. Eliminate grades. Actually, that paragraph above sounds cold-hearted, but if you want teachers to stay, you have to offer them incentive and make their jobs pleasant, so that’s why I suggest eliminating grading. Instead, base students’ credit upon a final test for each course. Students can even take the test anytime, so if they feel that, halfway through a course, they have learned enough to pass the end of course exam, they can “opt-out” of the rest of the course and test out of it. Teachers can feel free to teach to the test and have students all take it early if they want. That would allow the teacher either to begin summer vacation early (at a discounted rate, of course) or get another job in the school district, like security guard.  That’s an opt-out everyone can get excited about!

8. Have teachers clean their own areas. If we ran our homes like we run our schools, we’d all have personal maids. Having teachers take responsibility for their own instructional space will increase ownership of the school and decrease all the tension that can arise between custodial staff and faculty. Students can assist with these duties as well. And if they don’t like it, there’s always option #1 (see above).

9. More community involvement. One of the great indicators that a school is succeeding is if the community is participating in the education of their youth. That is why students should spend their sophomore years interning with community businesses. They could learn important things right in the workplace and the school district would not need a single teacher for the 10th grade. Obviously a student or two would be upset that their internship was with the inmates sorting trash at the dump, but do you see the inmates jumping for joy that they’re stuck there working for a dollar an hour? Those are the lessons life teaches, so it’s better for students to learn them early.

10. Advocate for homeschool. As it is, most homechoolers are children of highly involved families, where particularly Mom is guiding  the process from home instead of working outside the home. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. If our school district were to take a cutting edge stance and encourage everyone who wants to sleep in until 10:00am to sleep in until 10:00am and work on some school work whenever it feels good, that would reduce the need for hundreds of teachers. To seize the technicalities of state law (which won’t give the district the per student allocation if the student is not enrolled in the district) the school could “supervise” the homeschooling process, providing materials (well, a link to a website, since #4 above)  that would be equivalent to enrollment. This option would be very similar to the online courses described earlier, but with even less teacher supervision needed.

These ideas are not difficult to produce. I thought of them all while my wife was out for coffee with some friends. That our school district has failed to consider even ONE of these ideas before now is clear evidence of their gross mismanagement of public funds. I can only hope that when it comes time to vote for the opt-out, my fellow residents make them pay for their negligence.