"You Get What You Pay For"

[Update: I note that Joel Achenbach has linked to this post. I'm (honestly) humbled, many thanks to Joel.]

I like Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post. He's smart, funny, and irreverent. And at times he can be a poster child for what's wrong with early 21st century American liberalism. Following the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, he blogged on the topic, finishing up with relating Washington D. C.'s Mayor Fenty's comments on the general topic of infrastructure.

Then [Mayor Fenty] talked about the old public schools, where students are supposed to go back to classes in a few weeks in baking heat without hardly any air-conditioning. Worse, Fenty said, the schools don't have the electrical systems capable of handling new air-conditioners. You could put in window units all you wanted, but they wouldn't work with the wiring in those old buildings.

The first parent meeting at my daughter's public high school was in the library and it must have been 90 degrees in the room at 7:30 at night. No way anyone could learn in that.

One basic rule of life: You get what you pay for.

The final finger-wagging boldface is in the original. I believe the point we're supposed to be taking home with us is that the shoddy state of the schools to which Joel's sending his daughter is a lack of adequate funding.

Joel's column was from August 2; it kind of stuck in my brain as something that needed to be replied to, but would require some research.

I should have realized that it was only a matter of a few weeks before someone would drop some research in my lap. Check out "School Money for Nothing" by Neal McCluskey from the Cato@Liberty blog. He's spurred by this report in the Examiner.

D.C. Public Schools will pay nearly $5.4 million in full-time salaries to 68 teachers and staff who won't work full-time jobs this year, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee told The Examiner on Thursday.
Pun Salad will use its mad math skillz to value-add: that's slightly under $80K per employee. Ms. Rhee says they have been told to report to specific schools when classes start on Monday, but "they don't have specific duties."

Another recent post from Cato outlines the "get what you pay for" reality: the DC Public School budget is over a billion-with-a-b dollars, and its student population is about 52,000; this works out to about $20K per student, and about half a million for a typical class of 25 kids. And they aren't sure they're going to get textbooks to them, or (as Joel points out) knock down the classroom temperature by a few degrees.

It's significant, I suppose that this story appeared in the Examimer and not the Washington Post. If Joel's lucky, these inconvenient facts will continue to fly under his radar, and he can continue to lecture the rest of us about getting what we pay for.

Last Modified 2007-08-29 7:17 PM EDT