OPINION: Summer school: Costs vs. benefits

When Columbia Public Schools first hired Newton Learning to run summer school, it seemed like a perfect arrangement, though initially a bit controversial. Newton would entice kids to come to school by offering a $100 purchasing credit as an attendance bonus. The resulting classroom numbers earned larger state per-pupil reimbursements, a money-making proposition quickly overcoming vague distress over the idea of bribing kids to come to school.

But in the ensuing six years the fiscal worm has turned, and now the school district loses money, some $1.7 million projected for the recent session. By operating summer school in-house with the same program being conducted by Newton successor EdisonLearning, the school business office thinks the district might save $1.3 million a year. New state laws allow risky changes like this without former penalties for enrollment declines.

Administrators say it's not that simple, but Superintendent Chris Belcher thinks this is a good time to contemplate the change.

Well, yes, and while we're at it, let's take a look at the benefits being gained with the summer school program. That assessment idea was floated at a recent meeting of the school board's finance committee but seemed to drift to the back burner, outflanked by talk of in-house management.

School board members who favor this sort of careful assessment should get an accounting. If testing of summer school students pre- and post-session is being done, let's have a look. If no such testing is being done, why not? It makes no sense to run an expensive program without knowing these results; otherwise it's a glorified summer day-care operation.

Educators proclaim summer school benefits. As district officials study assumption of management, it would be good to explain these benefits in more than encouraging generalities.

HJW III

The time to be most on your guard against treating other people carelessly is when you are most pleased with yourself.

Credit: Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

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