When States Cut Education Funding, Parents Pay the Price
The Occupy Education movement is in full swing across the country, with protestors holding walkouts and sit-ins at public colleges and universities, and demanding funding be restored from preschool through graduate school.
The budget cuts have been particularly deep in California, where students are worried about the potential long-term damage to the extensive network of public colleges and universities, as well as the short-term effect on their own opportunities. While higher education is taking center stage in the protests, there’s little question that California’s budget crisis has had a brutal impact on school funding at all levels.
My sister’s family lives in a bucolic Northern California neighborhood, replete with biking trails and an extensive network of parks and public libraries. Despite such evidence of a relatively solvent and engaged community, the local schools are struggling.
Last year, my niece’s public elementary school held a fundraiser where parents could pre-order the full list of school supplies–including binders, markers and hand sanitizer–for the bargain price of $57. This year’s fundraising committee is asking for $125. Additionally, a second committee asks parents for a one-time donation by the first day of school of $365, or, as they put it, “just a dollar per day!” The money is intended to pay for a variety of programs and services, including front office support, classroom aides, enrichment programs, extended library hours and teacher stipends.
In Nevada, where I spent nine years, public schools are prohibited from fundraising for direct instruction. That always made a degree of sense to me: Who wants the wealthiest school in town to hire a pricey football coach? The prohibition encourages a degree of supposed equity in access to classroom teachers and programs. In my sister’s case, though, she would have less of an issue chipping in if the extra dollars meant keeping class sizes down. Instead, my younger niece will share her second-grade teacher with 25 other students, an increase from last year’s class sizes at the school.
“Considering how high our taxes are, it’s unnerving,” my sister said. “The state of California isn’t giving our kids what they need. Teachers are stressed out–you can see it on their faces. Adding six kids to the room is overwhelming.”
When my older niece was in the second grade six years ago (oh, those halcyon pre-recession days!), California’s class size limits were still in force. There were just 20 students per teacher in grades 1-3. The smaller class size made a difference in my older niece’s academic growth, particularly when it came to reading.
“The teacher had more time to spend with her,” my sister said. “You just can’t expect a teacher to give the same amount of individual attention to 26 kids that she gave to 20.”
Even though I know my sister and her husband are fully participating in their daughters’ learning, I still worry about my nieces. I actually worry even more about the students who don’t have similarly available advocates in their own homes.
This is a challenging time for educators like my niece’s second-grade teacher, who will need significant support if their students are going to have the best chance at learning. And that’s going to take more than a case of copier paper and a jumbo bottle of Purell.
*Portions of this blog were previously published.