Monday, September 27, 2010

Editorial: Public education needs transparent accountability

The unnamed Courier editor pushes his professorial eyeglasses down his nose and snores, "Have we let our universities become sacred cows?" Who is he hoping to kid?

Conservatives love to beat up on public schools, whether it's teachers unions indoctrinating first-graders with proletarian class rage, textbooks that don't give quite enough preference to superstitious drivel or the heroic struggle of the Confederacy, or public universities stamping out commie elitists like Xmas cookies. It's a conditioned reflex: say "public education" and a good conservative will always burp out some form of "socialist boondoggle." This goes back to the invention of public education, when people decided they'd prefer to tax themselves for an education system to build informed citizens rather than suffer with the one provided by the churches to frighten children and build good little tithers.

Conservatives love "accountability," which in real terms usually means blaming employees for the decisions made at the top. In Arizona's case the big decision is decades of underfunding our schools, and the big lie is blaming teachers for the results.

Here the editor urges the reader to keep an eye on the Board of Regents to make sure that our public universities don't cost the student too much. Sounds great until you realize that the Board of Regents has almost no control over that in real-world terms. The people controlling tuition prices are our state legislators in the budget process, when they determine the base funding of the universities every year, and they've been doing everything they can to divert public funds away from the universities. In their reelection appeals they won't tell you that they raised your kids' tuition, rather they'll brag (and lie) about "balancing the budget" and obfuscate about how they just transferred the real costs of government to the schools, counties, cities and towns, which have little choice but to shut up and deal with it in usually vain hope of avoiding worse treatment next year.

So if the editor is truly worried about the rising cost of public tuition, he should be asking pointed questions of Arizona's legislative majority leadership, particularly Senate whip Steve Pierce and House whip Andy Tobin. As should readers.