Last updated: June 13. 2014 4:34PM - 315 Views
Jim Waters

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Opponents of giving Kentucky parents control over where their children attend school claim such policies would result in a lack of accountability.

Louisville Rep. Mary Lou Marzian fretted on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” in February that charter schools – which simply are innovative public schools chosen by parents rather than assigned by the system – “have been rife with scandal,” and how important it is to her that bureaucrats “maintain control and accountability over our public schools and our tax dollars.”

For good measure, she repeated: “And that’s what so important to me – is to be able to have accountability and control.”

Yet since state Auditor Adam Edelen released on May 21 the results of his year-long audit of the Jefferson County Public Schools revealing a system “rife” with wasteful spending practices, overpaid bureaucrats and lack of proper controls concerning the use of precious taxpayer resources – which he clearly believes keeps needed funds from getting into classrooms – nary a peep has been heard from Marzian or her campaign-contributing pals at the teachers’ unions.

On that same TV program, Jefferson County teachers’ union boss Brent McKim rightly noted that parents “want the public schools that they have to be successful.”

Then came the audit.

What have we heard from McKim about any dismay he might feel about the auditor’s report concerning the fact that there are 369 administrators in his school district alone who are paid in excess of $100,000 a year – more than the 281-person executive branch that oversees the entire commonwealth – while many teachers in the system struggle from a lack of resources and where 58 percent of students are below-proficient readers?

What happened to holding systems “accountable” and giving parents what they want: “successful public schools?

When might we hear something from Marzian about plans to hold her district’s education bureaucrats accountable for the mammoth financial failures revealed by Edelen’s solid and politically courageous audit?

Probably never. Apparently, what’s good for the goose is not the same for the gander – at least when it comes to this big, bold talk about education accountability.

For anti-choice politicians like Marzian and the teachers unions who fund them, the school-choice debate is not about arriving at the truth or finding ways to hold costly, failing bureaucracies accountable. It’s about fear mongering and playing upon ignorance to create a perception that charter schools would, unlike our public-education system, be unaccountable and destroy public schools.

But don’t mistake a large bureaucracy with lots of highly paid administrators with accountability.

Since Kentucky parents are not currently empowered to remove their children from a failing public school and place them in a successful one, the commonwealth’s education system is a monopoly – a huge entity that lack competition and therefore the incentive to change.

Wealthy families can afford to move to better school districts or write big tuition checks to private schools, allowing their children to escape failure. However, poor parents must rely largely on public schools. If their child is assigned a failing school, what options do they have?

Without choice, it’s a lack of accountability in Kentucky’s current public-education bureaucracy that Marzian should be addressing with all earnestness, especially considering its wasteful spending and poor academic performance standing in the way of an adequate education for all children – no matter their skin color, size of their parents’ paychecks or which side of the tracks they happen to reside.

Such lack of accountability is how the board of a huge district like Jefferson County can bemoan an audit that paints a dire portrait of funds not getting to the classroom and yet one week later pass a $1.3 billion budget that was 10 percent higher than last year’s with few consequences.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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