Election season has come and gone. Several Arizona districts were quite happy as their overrides passed. Others were disappointed as their overrides died at the ballots. As a teacher, it’s easy to be furious at these voters. “Why don’t they see that schools need more money!?” we may want to scream! However, these “frugal” voters have reasons to be cautious. Schools can be huge financial black holes. Money can be dumped into schools by the millions without a noticeable difference being made. Schools have a certain level of accountability to voters and they need to be good stewards of the resources that are received. This is pretty easily accomplished. Districts, administrators, voters, and legislators need to know the teachers in their districts and be aware of what those teachers actually need and are able to use.
This school year, my classroom received a cart which contained 35 Ipads; enough for each one of my students. The combined cost of this cart was over $30,000! That’s a huge chunk of money. In some parts of Arizona, that’s a new teacher salary. With that in mind, I feel a huge amount of pressure to utilize these Ipads effectively. I had to learn how to research and use different apps. I had to put management protocols in place for students to use them. I had to teach my students how to use them. It’s a lot of work. It would’ve been much easier to continue with paper, pencil and book activities. I already know those work for me. However, if I don’t do the work, there is a $30,000 dust collector in my room. That’s a bit extravagant!
Last year, I attempted a GoFundMe project to buy Ipads for my classroom. My principal knew that. When the opportunity presented itself to get an Ipad cart at our school, she immediately thought of me. She knew I wanted a cart and I had demonstrated the desire to go above and beyond to learn how to use it. Because of her knowledge of me, she was able to make an informed decision give me that resource. (I hope she still thinks it was a wise decision!) For every teacher I can think of who would love to have this technology, I can also think of one who would likely let the cart sit unused for the majority of the time. This is where knowledge of teachers and what they need or desire becomes important. When it comes to school funding, ask a teacher. If money is spent on what others think a teacher needs, the money could just be thrown into a black hole.
This waste of money is not just limited to technology. Walk around a school. See how many unused textbooks, curriculum guides, book sets, or manipulatives you can count. If the teachers are not currently using these things, the money could have been better spent. How do you know if a teacher will use the resources? That’s a funny question with a simple solution. Ask them. I had a principal once who was going to buy a class set of geo boards for my classroom. Due to my classroom experience, I detest geo boards. I find any instructional benefit is far outweighed by the management that goes along with using them. I use other tools much more successfully to accomplish the same learning goals. If my principal would’ve given me a box of them, they would have sat in a supply closet unopened.
Wastefulness of resources is not just limited to teacher experience but also to time limits. I have seen several schools buy much needed science and social studies resources. A former principal invested in Foss Kits at my school. I loved those kits and used them for several years with much success in student achievement. However, extreme focuses on reading and math instruction along with standardized testing put a drain on my time allowed for science instruction. The last couple of years at that school, those Foss kits stayed in the corner collecting dust.
Throwing money at schools is not the answer. The money needs to be spent wisely and effectively. Without the teacher input, the money could easily be wasted. Do we really want our schools to be huge money pits?