Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Everyone Likes Puppies!

You may be surprised by the number of items that are mandated to be taught, addressed, or otherwise taken care of in your local public school. A primary reason for this is that the public school system is the only sector of society where we have a captive audience. Attendance is required by law, whereas there is not a requirement that folks go to the doctor. I suppose that is the reason schools have the responsibility of monitoring whether or not children have all their immunizations prior to enrolling. So, when the new requirement came out requiring that we monitor meningococcal vaccine administration, it is, in fact, an unfunded mandate. Truthfully, tasks like this have very little overhead, because after all we employ a school nurse and she already has the responsibility of verifying a number of vaccinations. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out this adds to the workload of our personnel. At last count, we had over 50 students that were not yet immunized. Because of that Nurse Brandhorst will need to come in next week and start tracking them down. Now, don't get us wrong, this is a good idea and probably should be done. But, that is how a lot of these unfunded mandates get started. They are all good ideas. After all, most people agree vaccinations are a good idea. It's kind of like puppies. We all like puppies, right?

Now then, let's consider again the cost of unfunded mandates. Some of these costs are hidden, much like the new vaccine monitoring requirement. I'll concede the point that the cost of monitoring may be minimal, but the sum of many of these 'minimal cost' mandates can add up to a pretty large number. But let's set aside the purely financial component of unfunded mandates and consider the impact they have on other aspects of the educational program.

Take for example the requirement that all students must be taught CPR before they graduate. Who can argue that is a bad idea? Everyone should know CPR and the basics of this life-saving procedure. So, several years ago the legislature mandated that all schools teacher CPR. Of course they didn't appropriate any funding to implement the training so it was left to schools to figure out how they were going to pay for it. But again I argue the monetary implications are but one way to look at the idea of unfunded mandates.

Again, because of the fact that schools hold a captive audience, all sorts of ideas and requirements are mandated upon them. The problem is that nothing is ever taken away. Once again I concede the administration of CPR has a pretty minimal cost associated with it. But set that aside. When are schools supposed to meet this requirement? It's not like we are sitting on a block of time that isn't used for something else, just waiting for us to plug in another curriculum or content. The trouble is, nothing is ever taken away! We just seem to continually add more and more content and curriculum to our school day without adding any additional time. And time certainly does cost money!

I suppose the good news is the last couple of years, the Legislature has been sensitive to ensuring they don't burden school districts with unfunded mandates. But, I argue that some of the decisions that have been made are not always in the best interest of the school. Yes, some mandates are necessary and should be funded. During the first session of the 87th general assembly, the legislature eliminated the funding for mentoring programs that are designed to support teachers that are new to the profession. Because of their sensitivity to unfunded mandates, the requirement to provide these programs was eliminated. (It actually is still required but how it works is a bit complicated.) Now I don't know about where you work, but providing support to employees that are brand new to the profession seems like a pretty important part of the induction process. In a state where teacher attrition is part of the formula the determines a school's 'report card grade', it seems like this decision may have been a little short sighted. School districts are going to continue to provide mentoring programs not because we necessarily have to or are mandated to, but rather because they are a good idea! Yet the money is no longer provided. (This would be a great opportunity for you to review my blog article from a few weeks back: Held Harmless? Sort of...)

Again, I give credit where it is due. Our legislature is listening when it comes to unfunded mandates, but the recent move to add computer science to the scope and sequence of course offerings isn't all that helpful. There was no money appropriated for schools to implement computer science programs so they weren't mandated. But let's say money was appropriated and we were mandated? Well, then I suppose we would probably have to find room in the schedule for the course--at the expense of something else. (There's that time constraint element again.)

For those reasons, the Hudson Board of Directors advocates against unfunded mandates. But you know, I like puppies too!

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