Unintended Consequences

In the already unsexy world of education policy, I’d like to dabble in a subtopic that is even less so: education finance. Before you frantically pound the escape button on your keyboard to back out of this blog, stay with me. I’ll be brief. Plus, you never know what can happen. Remember that Patrick Dempsey from “Can’t Buy Me Love” did eventually become Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey. One just never knows.

Sometimes the best of intentions in policy and practice can spur unintended consequences that counter original purposes. This is sometimes the case when steps are taken to ensure government accountability, transparency, and frugality in spending taxpayer money. A perfect example is outlined in the superbly reported NPR story about efforts to reduce the budget of one government agency until a little thing known as The Constitution ended up costing us more in the end. Lots more, actually.

I begin by saying that everyone I know in public education is fully supportive of finding the best value for expenditures and fully understands why oversight is needed. We simply don’t have enough money floating around to feel otherwise, even if it wasn’t already a part of our moral code. However, spend a week trying to secure resources or services that are necessary to do our jobs, and you’ll soon discover that some of the best intentions behind state and federal laws are actually backfiring. I can’t help but wondering if our efforts to combat wasteful spending is costing us far more.

Perhaps the most frustrating component of this tale is our inability to take advantage of market pricing, when such pricing is at its best. Or, needing to make a purchase from a company that accepts credit, as all do, but not purchase orders, which many don’t. For example, I attempted to secure a necessary training book for teachers that retails for $28.95. However, digital versions are available for under $10.00, and in some instances less than $5.00. Further, used versions are also found through Amazon. It sounds like a find until you consider we can’t purchase a used book from Amazon due to the strict guidelines on procurement, and the company offering the ebook can’t offer such a low price while absorbing the expense and hassle of purchase order management, while keeping the price low. To get the book, it’s credit card, overpayment, or no critical resource for the classroom teacher.

Remember, we’re constantly reminded that we should operate more like a business

This is only one example from just this past week, but my public education colleagues and I could write something closer to an encyclopedia than a blog, loaded with such examples. On top of these well-intended regulations, school districts have to employ entire departments just to essentially ensure compliance, process mounds of paperwork, and prepare endless reports on spending. Considering that all of our funding is subject to such rules -, well, just think about it for a moment.
In the meantime, I just saved 40 bucks buying something used on Amazon for my home. No purchase order required, just an eye for a deal and a motivation to find the best price.
In the end, there’s nothing more frustrating than to know we are spending more than we should have to, just to prove that we’re not spending more than we have to.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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