by David Safier
Your household income dropped 20% over the past few years. You want to do everything you can to spare your family from absorbing the pain, so you try your damndest to save money elsewhere.
How about lowering home or rent payments? Sorry, those letters you sent asking to cut your payments 20% gave everyone in the office a good laugh. Cut back on car payments? Same hilarity when the loan company received your letter. Utility bills? Maybe you can shave off a few dollars by keeping the house colder in winter and warmer in summer and by flushing less often, but it's not going to amount to a 20% savings.
The only sure places to cut back are on expenses for food, clothing, family enrichment and entertainment. You don't want to deny your family, especially your children, but what choice do you have? And so the percentage of your overall budget you spend on your family decreases along with your income.
Schools are faced with the same problems. K-12 education funding has gone down 20% per student over the past few years — that's in real dollars — courtesy of the Republican budget cutters in Phoenix. Yet districts have fixed costs that don't budge when the money gets tight — buildings to operate, utilities to pay, buses to run. You can cut back a bit on some of those expenses, but 20%? That's not possible. Arizona already spends a lower percentage on administrative costs than all but a few other states, so there's not much room for savings there either.
But you can always cut a teacher or two from a school if you have to and cram a few more kids in each classroom. You can put off that textbook purchase and have students use those ratty, outdated books another year. You can make teachers buy paper and other supplies for their classrooms. Teachers, caring fools that they are, will dig into their modest salaries rather than denying their kids materials they need for their educations.
Ironically, the classroom, which is what education is all about, is one of the few areas in a school district's budget where spending is flexible. So the percentage of the school budget making it to the classroom goes down as the total dollar amount decreases.
And the Republican legislators who starve the schools say self-righteously, if administrators really cared about the children, they wouldn't cut the money going to the classroom. They'd find savings elsewhere.