Budget Cuts Destroy Public Education. How can we make people understand that underfunding is destroying our public school systems? And that the children who suffer because of education cuts will also be hurt by proposed social services cuts -- a cruel double whammy unbefitting a civilized society?
I'm a second-grade teacher at Esperanza Elementary School, and those were the questions on my mind as I joined other classroom teachers in Sacramento April 29 to buttonhole lawmakers and plead for them to stand firm against any more cuts to education or social services, during a UTLA-arranged lobby day. I wish I could say we communicated, but I really think most of them, including most Democrats, just don't get it.
According to the most recent analysis, California, one of the richest economies in the world, now ranks 48 out of the 50 states in per-pupil spending.
At my overcrowded, year-round school near MacArthur Park that means the computer lab was shut down a few years ago and the computer teacher position abolished. The librarian was dismissed. Every year, the library shelves grow more bare, and the books more tattered. There are fewer classroom aides (most teachers have none). There is no sports program even though the kids love soccer and sports can teach many valuable lessons. There isn't even any grass to play on, just hard bare concrete, which is cheaper to maintain. Many classes are held in old, decrepit bungalows that have long outlived their supposedly "temporary" status. I suspect they may expose us to formaldehyde and/or asbestos. Bathrooms and classrooms are often dirty, because the custodial staff is stretched thin.
When my students "go off-track" they rarely have the opportunity to sign up for remedial classes they need, and we never offer enrichment classes just for the pleasure of learning. This coming year we will most likely have to increase class size and employ fewer teachers. And we are in real danger of losing the last thing that still enriches our students' lives on a regular basis - our music program. In addition to giving joy, music helps our students learn English, develops mathematical abilities, reduces violence and for many kids may be the only thing that prevents them from dropping out and joining a gang later on in middle or high school. Without music, our kids' education will finally become truly impoverished.
One more thing. Despite the stereotypes of inner-city schools, teachers at my school are highly qualified, and dedicated. In addition to performing classroom duties, it's not unusual for teachers to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars of our own money to buy books and other materials students need. The sad truth is, despite teachers' willingness to spend our own resources, we can't begin to make up for the devastating effects of California's decades of failure to invest adequately in public education.
In Sacramento, most Republican lawmakers are prepared to cut education and social services funding. They just don't care. And most Democratic lawmakers remain out of touch with classroom realities. They think more education cuts can be made without doing great harm. Or they think it's okay to cut social services. They all need to hear from us. We need to tell them we will tolerate NO MORE CUTS. We need to tell them to step up to the plate and accept responsibility for fully funding public education and social services, and that means raising revenue through progressive taxation. We have the wealth to do the job right in California -- we just need the political will to tap that wealth and invest properly in our children's future.