Friday, April 16, 2004


A friend of mine was in the Dallas airport recently, coming home from a business trip. Waiting alongside him was a large group of Nebraska educators. Here’s how he describes what happened:

‘’I overheard them talking favorably about the State Board of Ed and standards, and what a good job they were doing with standards.

‘’I couldn’t help myself, and I said that the State Board would be a good place for a bomb, providing no one was hurt.

‘’I said standards do nothing but teach to the middle and take more time away from teachers than recess.

‘’They were somewhat feisty.

‘’It turns out that these ladies were school psychologists on an ‘education junket’ to Dallas for six days. Two of them, count 'em, TWO . . . were from (my home district). Now, couldn’t one go and return with information for the others? Six nights of hotel and roundtrip airfare for this. Wow!’’

When he expressed his opinion to them about what he saw as an imprudent use of Nebraska taxpayer dollars, what did he get? That ‘’deer in the headlights’’ look. They just didn’t get it.

Well, you know, they’re spending somebody else’s money. That’s it. That’s the problem.

If they were spending their own, there’s no doubt in my mind they would have spent $15 or $20 to buy a book on the same topic they just spent six days’ worth of taxpayer money to bone up on.

I got into that same discussion with a teacher in our old grade school, who was the first to admit she had the world’s worst grammar and writing skills, but who was also the union representative in that grade school. That year, she got a union-related perk from her district intended to massage her sensibilities: a week-long, taxpayer-paid junket to Atlanta, Ga., to attend a writing conference for teachers.

She was bragging about it to me afterwards, using a large amount of atrocious grammar in the offing despite her high-priced recent junket at my expense. Naturally, polite steam began to come out of my ears, and I asked with a keen mixture of sincerity and sarcasm, ‘’How many thousand dollars did THAT cost? Couldn’t you have just bought a paperback copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk & White for $5.99 and learned the same stuff?’’ She stared at me like a deer in the headlights. ‘’What’s that?’’ she asked. ‘’I’ve never heard of that.”

Never heard of Strunk & White. That book is, like, you know, OK, the BIBLE of writing instruction, and stuff teachers should know. Of.

She just didn’t get it.

It’s the same thing with the district administrator from Omaha who took a taxpayer-paid junket to Japan to ‘’study’’ the schools there -- couldn’’’t he have watched a video? . . . and the Lincoln high schools with voc-ed technology that is far and away more fancy than what the average working person uses to make a living . . . and the widespread, indiscriminate use of “disposable’’ classroom materials instead of materials that kids can use year after year . . . and the Omaha teacher who chartered a jet to take a classroom of high-school kids to Washington, D.C., for the day -- couldn’t they have gone to the library? . . . and the northeast Nebraska superintendent who recently rammed an incredibly expensive, high-tech classroom phone system down the throats of his school board that has the same emergency-minded, safety-protecting, voice-activated technology as jet pilots who might have to fend off terrorists -- couldn’t they have just gone with the tried-and-true BUZZER TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE?

But noooooo. They’re spending somebody else’s money. That’s it. That’s the problem with public schools. They just don’t get it. They may never get it.

Until we force them to show us how they’re spending each and every dollar, and to defend those expenditures that are questionable, of which many, many are, the money’s just going to flow and flow. And all we’ll get from them is the ‘’deer in the headlights’’ look when we ask them whether there might be a more cost-effective bang for our bucks.


One in a series on Nebraska school finance issues based on an article on the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s education website this week:


For Nebraska public education spending reports, see statewide and individual district annual report information on:


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