Tuesday, August 21, 2007

4 Ways to Spend Money

I was visiting a homeschool message board today where a mom shared that some of her friends who send their kids to government school were discussing the long lists of supplies the kids were expected to bring the first day of school. I understand students being required to bring items like pencils, paper, crayons, etc. I even understand the teacher requiring that students bring certain colors or styles of items... to avoid competition over who has the nicer notebook or to teach children how to better organize their schoolwork by organizing assignments in different colored folders. However, what I don't get are 1) the collecting of items and putting them in a communal group to be dispersed by the teacher later and 2) the requirement of students to bring truly "classroom" supplies... like tissues, dry erase markers, and toilet paper. Isn't that the cost of providing education? Shouldn't these items be included in the school's budget? We spend just over $8000 per student on average for government education (according to 2002-2003 school year stats kept by the Dept. of Ed). We can't afford toilet paper with that?!

I have to admit that I am a bit cynical (maybe that's an understatement. LOL!) when it comes to lists like this. A coworker of dh's had a kid in the local government school, and his dd told him that she had to stand in line every morning to sharpen two of her pencils in the classroom next door since there was no sharpener in her room. The father, assuming his dd was exaggerating, asked the teacher about it the next time he saw her. Sure enough, the teacher confirmed that there was no sharpener in her room because it wasn't provided for in the budget. The dad offered to buy one for the classroom, and the teacher asked him not to because when the school board toured the school at the end of the year while they were writing up the next year's budget and assessing what was needed, they would see that her classroom had a sharpener and not provide as much money in the budget for classroom expenses as they did the year before! The teachers were purposely lacking in supplies so that they could complain about what they didn't have and get money. What they were spending it on, I have no idea.

This reminds me of Milton Friedman's list of the four ways to spend money (the humorous examples in this version of the list that follows is by PJ O'Rourke from his book All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague and Poverty):

  1. You spend your money on yourself. You're motivated to get the thing you want most at the best price. This is the way middle-aged men haggle with Porsche dealers.
  2. You spend your money on other people. You still want a bargain, but you're less interested in pleasing the recipient of your largesse. This is why children get underwear at Christmas.
  3. You spend other people's money on yourself. You get what you want but price no longer matters. The second wives who ride around with the middle-aged men in the Porsches do this kind of spending at Neiman Marcus.
  4. You spend other people's money on other people. And in this case, who gives a s**t?

The government schools (well, let's face it, I could just say "the government" and leave it at that) is functioning under #4.

There is one benefit to these back-to-school lists, though. Back-to-school sales. I love to stock-up on school supplies at the end of summer. Wading through aisles and aisles of neatly packed reams of paper, colorful boxes of crayons, and 3-ring-binders that just scream, "Buy me!" (Well, they don't really scream, but this is what I tell Frodo to justify my purchases. LOL!) But even with my addiction to the smell of newly-sharpened #2's and eraser rubber, we spend considerably less per student than the local government school. About $200 per student. I know that doesn't include costs like rent, electricity, salary, and such, but the Department of Education's cost estimates don't include pencils, crayons or toilet paper, so I'm guessing we're still much lower.

Off my soapbox. :)


Anonymous said...

I grew up in a home with two public school teachers in the family, and they spent *masses* of money on their own school supplies! They were not given kleenex, they were not given any kinds of rewards for the children, they weren't given any kind of art supplies beyond the basic paper/glue. They spent more money than you would believe, making the classroom interesting, making the projects more fun, and they were ridiculed for it by other teachers who whined about how they were being made to look bad, how their budgets were going to be cut, how this and that...

...and that's why I'm homeschooling my kids. :) :) :) If I knew all their teachers would be like my parents, it would be different, but I know from listening to them that that type of effort is very rare.

Anonymous said...

Oops -- I didn't realize my son was still logged on, on this computer! Hehehe.



LisaWA said...

I enjoyed your post.

What a sad day when here in teh United States ours schools cant supply the basics.

It bugs me to no end. Wheres the (beef? *Ü*) money going? I know we get taxed enough! lol

Thanks for sharing...

Lisawa *Ü*