Contributor Post Created with Sketch. When $63 Million Doesn’t Buy Working Toilets

 

When 450 students arrived at Anacostia High School in the District of Columbia’s southeast neighborhood on April 4, they found that few of the sinks or toilets were functioning and the cafeteria was flooded. They were advised by the Department of General Services to use the facilities at a middle school two blocks away until repairs could be completed.

Exasperated teachers organized an impromptu, hour-long walkout to protest, which is why this particular dysfunction made the news. A casual reader might note the plumbing fiasco and chalk it up to neglect of poor students and poor neighborhoods. That is the interpretation urged by DC Council Member Trayon White, Sr. who attended the walkout and declared that “The students and teachers need support from the leaders of the city because of the constant neglect happening at Anacostia.”

But it’s far from so simple. The District of Columbia has one of the worst performing public school systems in the country. It is also one of the most generously funded. Anacostia High School itself received a $63 million renovation in 2013. According to the DC school’s website, the project included “Full modernization and renovation of the existing high school using an adaptive re-use approach. Modernization . . . included; exterior restoration, roofing, systems replacement, ADA improvements, phased occupancy, technology enhancements, and sustainable design initiatives.” But not, it seems, working toilets.

Average per-pupil spending nationwide is about $11,000 per year, but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC was spending an average of $27,460 per pupil in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available. While most states spend about half of their funds on instruction – California is typical, expending $11,043 per pupil, with $5,757 going to instruction – the District spends only about a third of its total on instruction. It vastly outspends all of the other states. The next biggest spender is New York at $21,213 ($14,124 on instruction).

Where does the money go? “A great chunk seems to wind up in administration,” notes the Cato Institute’s Neal McClusky. Even cautioning, as McClusky does, that DC’s administrative costs may look elevated because it is required to do everything a state would do, the spending still far exceeds small states like Montana and Wyoming.

Teachers in DC are not slighted. The National Education Association lists Washington, DC as offering the highest starting teacher salary in the nation.

Ask the average voter if we should be spending more on K-12 education and you will get thunderous agreement, though people become a little less enthusiastic when they learn the true scope of current spending. While education spending has tripled over the past 40 years, student performance has remained flat.

But back to Anacostia High. Why in the world would a newly renovated school have malfunctioning plumbing? If you suspect corruption, I’m with you. According to the City Paper, between 2000 and 2013, the District spent more than $1.2 billion on school modernization. Yet auditors could not find evidence that $168,997,484 worth of expenses had been approved. City Paper quotes the audit as surmising that “The District may have paid fraudulent or inaccurate invoices.”

Anacostia High School’s enrollment is 100 percent minority and 100 percent poor. If these students are to have any shot at a decent life, they need to earn at least a high school diploma. Yet only 19 percent of seniors are on track to graduate this year. Is it all the responsibility of the public school system? Clearly not. These kids come overwhelmingly from disadvantaged neighborhoods and single-parent families. Their environments are characterized by disorder, crime, and drug abuse.

But if parents, religious leaders, and yes, community activists were serious about confronting this decades-long disaster, they would look to what works. There are schools in DC with healthy graduation rates, followed by college attendance. Some are regular public schools, but more are charters. Many of the successful schools draw from the same pool of applicants as the failing ones.

It’s appalling that the plumbing failed at Anacostia High, but the far greater travesty is the non-education it is providing to the neediest kids. Schools should be launching pads, not sink holes.

There are 21 comments.

  1. WI Con Member
    WI Con Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’d be curious if the plumbing system was included as part of that renovation or not (the building systems noted in post don’t state) – but even if not included in the renovations, the school had non-functioning toilets before the renovation?

    Should be relatively to review scope of work documents – may be more stupid failure of oversight/scope or ‘value engineering’ or good old corruption. 

    Not excusing it, it may be more incompetence than corruption.

     

    • #1
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:03 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    Mona Charen: but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC was spending an average of $27,460 per pupil in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available.

    That averaged across D.C.? How much difference should we expect to see from a ghetto school to an enclave of ‘top officials’ and their progeny?

    Even so, I doubt per pupil spending is a good metric. If a school spends twenty seven grand per pupil but can’t provide working toilets then it’s doing something substantially worse than one that runs at five grand a kid but has a working outhouse.

    • #2
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:13 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    WI Con (View Comment):
    it may be more incompetence than corruption.

    Dude, it’s government… it’s corruption. It’s D.C... it’s corruption.

    Mona Charen: ‘…using an adaptive re-use approach.’

    And there’s Their out. If I’m spending 63 mil, I wouldn’t want to reuse clog toilets.

    • #3
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Seawriter Member

    If the toilets don’t work there is more than one reason to drain the swamp.

    (That is, so long as we are not rude about it.)

    • #4
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Unsk Member

    Hey Mona, a post I like!

    As a general rule, the bigger the district, the bigger the admin staff and the poorer the test scores. Here in California, the schools have a really neat scam, always claiming that the poor down trodden teachers get so little and the poorly funded classrooms have no paper, or pencils, yada, yada yada, so we gotta absolutely have billions more, you dirty rotten taxpayers! So the billions get approved by the voters, (of course we go through this rinse and repeat every few years), but the situation never improves. Gee, I wonder why that is?

    • #5
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:46 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. CJ Coolidge
    CJ

    We’re pulling our 3 kids out of government school at the end of the year. We’ll be homeschooling next year. It’s not just DC schools that are garbage. You might think your school is okay but it almost certainly isn’t.

    • #6
    • April 5, 2018, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. JoelB Member

    Is the toilet and sink problem a result of vandalism or poor plumbing practice?

    • #7
    • April 5, 2018, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Seawriter Member

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Is the toilet and sink problem a result of vandalism or poor plumbing practice?

    I’d say it stinks either way.

    • #8
    • April 5, 2018, at 4:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. I Walton Member

    Plumbing is a metaphor. The thing about plumbing is that it’s obvious when it doesn’t work. Education not so obvious, corruption not so visible; so of all the things the system might repair plumbing would be fist on the list. The DC school system is so rotten and so riddled with top heavy corruption, it can’t be fixed, and while nobody seems to care enough to blow it all away and start from scratch, at least parents who care must be allowed to get their kids out. We can also thank Obama for stopping escape.

    • #9
    • April 5, 2018, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Kudos for the non-Trump column. 

    • #10
    • April 5, 2018, at 6:04 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. JoelB Member

    This matter could have been handled simply by a school closing for a day. Nobody would have thought a great deal about it. If they were told to use the facilities three blocks away, that is almost beyond belief.

    • #11
    • April 5, 2018, at 7:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mona Charen: While education spending has tripled over the past 40 years, student performance has remained flat.

    In an article full of scandalous data, this is the worst. We complain about the high cost of health care, and it is quite expensive. But at least we’re getting something for that increased spending. There are drugs and surgical practices that didn’t exist 40 years ago. Many people who 50 years ago would have just had to suffer with their condition (or die) now have a chance at successful treatment. With education we have tripled spending and have gotten nothing in return, except demands for more spending.

    • #12
    • April 5, 2018, at 7:14 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Imagine giving each parent a voucher for 20k. You could have 15 hire a private tutor and rent a nice space and give their kids a real education….

    • #13
    • April 6, 2018, at 12:13 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Mona Charen: While education spending has tripled over the past 40 years, student performance has remained flat.

    In an article full of scandalous data, this is the worst. We complain about the high cost of health care, and it is quite expensive. But at least we’re getting something for that increased spending. There are drugs and surgical practices that didn’t exist 40 years ago. Many people who 50 years ago would have just had to suffer with their condition (or die) now have a chance at successful treatment. With education we have tripled spending and have gotten nothing in return, except demands for more spending.

    You’re not considering the incredible advances our public schools have made in self esteem over the past few decades. A few billion dollars are nothing compared to the happiness a participation trophy engenders. 

    • #14
    • April 6, 2018, at 12:36 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. genferei Member
    genferei Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Obviously the true purpose of public education systems is not to educate. They exist to funnel tax money to the Democratic Party, to indoctrinate the populace in the nostrums of the progressive left in order to remake society, and to park children while parents work. If actual education occasionally takes place, it is for the purpose of keeping the middle class committed to the whole rotten system (as if the ‘parking’ wasn’t good enough).

    Abolish compulsory education. For the children. Particularly the poorest ones.

    • #15
    • April 6, 2018, at 2:03 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Pony Convertible Member

    CJ (View Comment):

    We’re pulling our 3 kids out of government school at the end of the year. We’ll be homeschooling next year. It’s not just DC schools that are garbage. You might think your school is okay but it almost certainly isn’t.

    Thanks for using the correct term, “government school”. “Public school” implies the public, or local community, is in charge. I have been using the term government schools for about 15 years. It makes people think differently. 

    Reactions are interesting. I have had people ask me why I call it government school, and when I answer, “Because it is”. They often seem surprised. It’s like they never thought about who is running the school. I have had people look at me with wide eyes and say, “I never really thought about our schools being run by the government”. Everyone know the government runs the schools, yet few people actually think about that fact. Using the term government school makes it obvious who is running the schools and deciding what our kids are being taught.

    • #16
    • April 6, 2018, at 6:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Pony Convertible Member

    genferei (View Comment):

    Obviously the true purpose of public education systems is not to educate. They exist to funnel tax money to the Democratic Party, to indoctrinate the populace in the nostrums of the progressive left in order to remake society, and to park children while parents work. If actual education occasionally takes place, it is for the purpose of keeping the middle class committed to the whole rotten system (as if the ‘parking’ wasn’t good enough).

    Abolish compulsory education. For the children. Particularly the poorest ones.

    I am not opposed to compulsory education. I am opposed to government schools.

    Education is vital to a child’s development. So is food, yet we don’t put the government in charge of our grocery stores. We should eliminate government schools and give families the equivalent of food stamps (vouchers) to pay for the poor to go to private schools.

    • #17
    • April 6, 2018, at 6:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    Mona Charen: A casual reader might note the plumbing fiasco and chalk it up to neglect of poor students and poor neighborhoods. That is the interpretation urged by DC Council Member Trayon White, Sr. who attended the walkout and declared that “The students and teachers need support from the leaders of the city because of the constant neglect happening at Anacostia.”

    Um, is that the “Rothschilds control the weather” guy?

    • #18
    • April 6, 2018, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Coolidge

    Unsk (View Comment):

    As a general rule, the bigger the district, the bigger the admin staff and the poorer the test scores. Here in California, the schools have a really neat scam, always claiming that the poor down trodden teachers get so little and the poorly funded classrooms have no paper, or pencils, yada, yada yada, so we gotta absolutely have billions more, you dirty rotten taxpayers! So the billions get approved by the voters, (of course we go through this rinse and repeat every few years), but the situation never improves. Gee, I wonder why that is?

    http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/bloat4.jpg

    Chart found HERE.

    • #19
    • April 6, 2018, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Coolidge

    TheSockMonkey (View Comment):

    Mona Charen: A casual reader might note the plumbing fiasco and chalk it up to neglect of poor students and poor neighborhoods. That is the interpretation urged by DC Council Member Trayon White, Sr. who attended the walkout and declared that “The students and teachers need support from the leaders of the city because of the constant neglect happening at Anacostia.”

    Um, is that the “Rothschilds control the weather” guy?

    Ha! Yes . . . yes it is!

    • #20
    • April 6, 2018, at 8:38 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. genferei Member
    genferei Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):
    I am not opposed to compulsory education. I am opposed to government schools.

    It’s hard to get one without the other. If the government compels ‘education’, it must define ‘education’. Obviously this definition will be captured by the (leftist) system.

    Look what happens when the government defines ‘a healthy diet’. Imagine the even greater carnage if it had made its definition compulsory.

    • #21
    • April 6, 2018, at 9:54 AM PDT
    • 2 likes