When Newtown went from being a news story about a mass murder to a political story about gun control, President Barack Obama tried to justify new laws on the basis of saving “just one life.” We heard the same thing regarding a state agency's termination of a “safe schools” hotline contract.
The “just one life” theme is oft-repeated on a variety of issues. We've done our share of it. But government can't do everything on the basis of saving “just one life.” Society has to choose its spending priorities; the state Department of Education chose to stop funding the contract.
“No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe,” Obama said Feb. 4 in campaigning for gun control laws. “But if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try.” A day or two later, a Jenks Public Schools spokeswoman expressed her disagreement with the education department's decision: “My response to them is, if it saves one life, it's worth it.”
The Tulsa World said the hotline averaged 617 calls per year over a 12-year period. The cost for this in fiscal 2011 alone was $256,667. Using the 12-year average, each call cost the taxpayers $416. And no one can say for certain whether “just one life” was saved as a result of this spending.
The hotline was set up to take tips on unsafe conditions at schools, including bullying. This would seem to be a district function rather than a state function, but the state remains involved, using personnel funded by the education department and the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This costs far less than the hotline contract. It may or may not be as effective.
We expect public officials to justify all their spending. The education department made the right call in this instance.