We Need to Advocate for Ourselves
Lack of Activism by Educators May Have Hurt School Districts
By Dave Arnold
School districts across America have been hit hard by budget cuts. From California to Texas to Maine, districts are struggling to make ends meet. Consequently, school officials have had to make tough choices between closures, program cuts, bus route cancellations, and layoffs of teachers and education support professionals (ESP).
Schools in at least 17 states have opted for four-day weeks. I might have to deal with that arrangement next year at my school in Brownstown, Illinois. If this is a solution I have to live with at my workplace, then I would like to think that as a school district employee I had the opportunity to voice my opinion on whether I thought it would work or not.
No Easy Answers to Fiscal Duress
As educators and Association members, we need to be active, especially during these trying times. W e should try to solve our problems at school and not expect administrators, board members, and government officials to advocate on our behalf.
We can start by campaigning and voting for pro-education candidates — from the school board and the statehouse to Congress and the White House. And once they are in office, we must hold them accountable.
I know there are no quick fixes or magical cures to the problems that affect our nation’s education system, but I do know that this fix we are in did not happen overnight. This is a problem that has festered for years. We have, in part, allowed it to occur.
We share the blame as well as the stress of school districts in financial straits. Yes, us. You and me. The citizenry. It’s partly our fault.
As voters we have been lax on encouraging our legislators to adequately fund education. And now here we are. Our nation’s education system is crippled during a national financial crunch.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier this year that the state is in a "crisis of epic proportion." In his next breath, he introduced a budget that includes cutting education in the amount of $1.3 billion. He also pushed for a 33 percent hike in the state's income tax rate to avoid cuts to public schools and universities.
No one likes tax increases. But it seems like the only logical solution to adequately fund education is to raise taxes. Illinois UniServ Director, Dave Rathke, said in a recent article, “Taxes are not good, or bad, but they are necessary.”
Layoffs and Cutbacks
Those cuts mean at least 17,000 K-12 jobs are at risk. Quinn says the tax hike, which would raise $2.8 billion, allows the state to catch up on this year's late payments to schools. What Quinn doesn’t say is that Illinois would still be the worst state in the nation when it comes to funding education.
Every time I turn on the news or pick a newspaper I hear of another state or city in a funding crisis involving the education budget. But this isn’t new. In a 2006 report, Congressman Anthony Weiner states: “When President Bush signed the FY2006 education appropriations bill into law in December 2005, he continued a tradition of shortchanging New York City, ensuring that our schools will be shortchanged over $1.9 billion less than was authorized in the NCLB Act.”
According to a CNN report, the superintendent of the Kansas City, Missouri, school district defended a plan to shutter nearly half the district's schools. "No one likes closing schools. It's hard. It's tough on families, and it's certainly tough on our community," superintendent John Covington said.
No School, No Legacy
The Kansas City plan will close 29 education facilities, including 26 schools, according to a district report. Some parents voiced anger. Some students cried.
"I have an eight-year-old and a six-year-old who will be going to school with 12th-graders. I find that very inappropriate. I don't feel my children will be safe," Deneicia Williams told CNN.
Prince Jones, a senior, who will be part of the final graduating class at Westport High School, said he felt like he had “nothing” without his school.
“I have no high school legacy,” he said. “I feel like I have nothing, nothing to go back to."
This might be the case for many of us now working at schools.
Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.
Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials -- Dave's View --