Its all about the money, honey.

Forgive me for what will no doubt sound like a rant.  I have been ruminating over this issue for many years now, and it is suddenly bursting out of me in a fit of frustration and sadness.

Back in 2001, I was asked to serve on my local School Committee.  I agreed, and signed on for the most upsetting, enraging, frustrating, enlightening, empowering, demoralizing four years of my life.  I spent those four years learning about the maze of federal and state laws that impacted our small school district.  More importantly, and more sadly, I learned about the horrors of education funding in the United States.  As I sit here remembering the incomprehensible mash of federal laws without funding, federal laws with minimal funding, state laws with changing funding and local expectations with vulnerable funding, I am once again swept away by a feeling of helplessness.  It was a feeling that nearly overwhelmed me as I worked to create a reasonable budget for the school district that was in the process of educating my three beloved children.

In the six years since I gave up my School Committee seat (with enormous relief and a sense of profound failure), I have continued to watch the discussions about public education and how to pay for it.  Here is my distilled view of what we have been hearing, over and over again, for the past ten years or more.

Public schools are failing. There is a huge gap in achievement between lower income districts and upper and middle income districts.  Teachers need to be held accountable for the success or failure of their students. 

All of these points have some validity, but all have caveats as well.

SOME public schools are in trouble.  Healthy schools in upper middle class suburbs are not failing at all.    There is a huge gap between wealthy and poor school districts.  Well, YEAH. The kids in the richer towns have relatively stable homes, good food, new books, updated technology and highly paid teachers. The other kids don’t. Teachers have to have some responsibility for what is taught in the classroom, for the mood of the classroom, for the inspiration of the kids. But teachers don’t control how well fed their students are, what language they speak at home, whether or not they have a roof over their heads, or how involved their parents are in their educations.   Teachers cannot change the neurology of their students; we can’t take away the learning disabilities, the language disorders or the psychiatric disturbances.  Trust me, we would if we could…..

So I have a proposal to address a few of these inequities. It is something that I thought of back in 2001, when I taught in a district where “per-pupil spending” was some 60% higher than in the district where I served as a School Committee member.

I propose that all public schools be fully funded by the federal government.  No more state funding. No more local funding.  If education is really important to the politicians who gave us gems like “No Child Left Behind” and “A Race to the Top”, then education should be paid for by those politicians.

There should be a set dollar amount attached to the education of each child, so that “per pupil spending” would be far more equal than it is now.  A child born in Louisiana should have the same opportunities as a child born in New York.  A family that moves to follow a job opportunity should not sacrifice the education of its children.  The cost of an education should be the cost of an education. Period.

Oh, I know, there would have to be some allowances for cost of living differences, and for greater needs in some areas.  But there should be a base dollar amount for every single child in the US.  And it should not depend on the finances of the state.  And it should absolutely not ever depend on the tax revenues of small towns or struggling cities.

We now have national educational standards for all curriculum.  The federal government is telling every single teacher what has to be taught in what order at each grade level.  We have federal laws about testing, and national standards about how high those test scores must be.

Its time to back up all this federal oversight with federal funding.  Washington, its about damn time to put your money where your mouth is.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Auntie T on September 25, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Wow Karen. Just wow! Well said!


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