‘Deconstruct’ APS? Yes, Please


Dan Lewis, president of the Albuquerque City Council, offers some good and bad ideas today in an op-ed in the Duke City’s daily. But one proposal is stellar: “The Albuquerque Public School District has been plagued by scandal and failing outcomes for too long. Parents, teachers, and community advocates for our children have found that it is near impossible to hold district bureaucrats accountable. Now is the time to deconstruct this large unaccountable school district into multiple smaller districts. City leaders can stand up for our students and teachers by helping bring about the best kind of oversight — local accountability.”

Government education in America has a myriad of problems. But bigness is one of the biggest. A 2006 paper by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that in “the 50 years between 1930 and 1980, the number of school districts in the United States declined from almost 120,000 to 15,000 (a number that remains unchanged from 1980 through the present). During approximately the same period, the number of schools fell in the U.S. from over 225,000 to less than 100,000. Despite a 70 percent increase in the nation’s population, the number of school districts decreased by 87 percent and the number of schools decreased by 69 percent.”

What’s all that consolidation achieved? Not much — student-proficiency levels are lousy, and educrats’ labor productivity has been negative.

So Lewis’s idea deserves a serious discussion. But why stop at deconstructing APS? Statewide, school districts suffer from another problem: Local taxpayers don’t have enough “skin in the game.” More than two-thirds of K-12 government education in New Mexico is funded from state revenues. Only Idaho, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Vermont have larger shares.

Education economist Caroline Hoxby has found that “both students and taxpayers are better off under locally based systems of school funding and school control.” Shifting funding away from state sources, and toward property taxes and local GRTs, would be another way to foster the local accountability Lewis seeks.