Friday, September 7, 2012

Massive Video Scoreboard at Texas High School Demonstrates the Priorities for American Education

The Chinese – Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Despite the impression one might get from reading this Forum, The Dismal Political Economist likes football.  He is an avid fan.  But he is also concerned, concerned that other people’s dedication to the sport so warp their values and their thinking that they severely damage the country’s economic and social policies, along with huge collateral damage to education.

Case in point is Texas.  There the Governor has foamed at the mouth about such things as the expansion of Medicaid, claiming it is a fiscal disaster which the state cannot afford even though the Feds are picking up most of the cost.  For money for high school football scoreboards, not a problem.

CARTHAGE, Texas—This tiny town near the Louisiana border can now make the outsize claim that it is home to the biggest high-school football video scoreboard in the whole state of Texas—and maybe the country.

On Friday, all eyes will be on the high-resolution, 1,200 square-feet screen when it powers on for the Carthage Bulldogs' first game of the season.

Gosh, that’s probably something you don’t get at Best Buy, like on sale for $395.00.  Nope this scoreboard costs a little more than that.

Among the $750,000 behemoth's features: instant replay, animated graphics to fire up the fans and individual stat cards for the teenage players, complete with pictures.

And how do conservative Texans pay for such a thing.  Why they borrow the money of course, sticking future generations with the cost, something conservatives always say they are against and something they always do.

To acquire and install the giant screen, some 70% of the local electorate approved a special bond issue in May to pay for it.

And no, Carthage is not alone in Texas in spending exorbitantly on high school sports facilities.

Allen, an affluent suburb of Dallas, is opening a $60 million football bowl with a three-tiered press box and seating for 18,000 fans. More than 40% of the state's football fields are carpeted with artificial turf, including some laid down by the same firm that outfitted the Dallas Cowboys' palatial home, according to Robert McSpadden, who keeps an online inventory of Texas stadiums. Several dozen schools already have huge video scoreboards, including Beaumont, which briefly held the record for size after it bought a giant screen in 2010.

As for the real mission of education in Texas, well things in that arena aren’t going so well.

Elsewhere in Texas, the economic recession hasn't damped the devotion to high-school sports—even as the state cuts school funding and districts lay off teachers. Some rich districts have also raised money by asking football-loving voters for money through bond issues.

And to be fair at least some educators are sounding somewhat rational on the subject.

Glenn Hambrick, the superintendent of Carthage Independent School District, says the screen is a luxury, but one that the natural-gas-rich area can afford. He says the scoreboard will help raise money for the district through advertisements that can now be displayed with animation and in full color.

Mr. Hambrick, who was a football coach for 20 years, laments that the publicity about the scoreboard has overshadowed the district's spending on academic facilities, including a newly opened $17 million elementary school.

He is advising Carthaginians to keep a level head about football. "We have school because we're trying to educate kids," he says. "Does athletics play a role? Certainly. But it shouldn't drive the education in Texas."

As for the global competitors of the United States in the world marketplace, well let’s just say they are chuckling along.  In fact they probably produce much if not all of the jumbo video scoreboards that are diverting funds from education, and so getting a double bang for their buck.  They gain a competitive advantage by concentrating on things like math, and make money off the folly of their competitors.  

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