Saturday, April 9, 2011

So Much for Education?

It has been a very trying couple of weeks.

I am a teacher in Pennsylvania, as is my husband. We're lucky enough to teach in the same school district, his alma mater. We have always imagined that we would spend our lives living and working in his hometown, retiring after 35 years of service to the district that provided him with thirteen years of education, including a marvelous education in music, his first love and his chosen career.

And then the first shoe dropped. The economy bombed. A new governor was elected, one who saw the overspending of the previous governor and vowed to correct it.

Except in presenting his budget, the governor (a former teacher) made his stance on education perfectly clear: it doesn't matter.

With his proposal, school districts across the state are scrambling to make up for the monumental shortfall in funding. Sweeping program cuts. Furloughs of employees. One local district is furloughing over 100 people.

And yet prisons are getting an increase in funding. A relative of a colleague works as a teacher at one of the local prisons. They had so much leftover money in their budget that each prisoner taking his class got a laptop to use during that class. I have students who don't even have home computers. Where's the justice in that?

Our district hasn't released their plans for how they will deal with the budget shortfall. And that is scary. Especially when a neighboring district just cut kindergarten and all elementary arts programs.

My husband teaches elementary instrumental music; if he taught in that district, he'd be without a job for next year.

But that doesn't mean he's safe in our district. That doesn't mean any of us are safe. We're all waiting for the other shoe to drop, to see who will be gone, what programs will end, and how our students will suffer the loss of a well-rounded education.

It's not the school board's or administration's fault. When they get the state's budget, they'll do what they have to.

And what they have to do may have a horrible impact.

I did something I never thought I would do. I wrote my congressmen. I'm not a political person, and I can't stand political debate. It's generally too messy an issue for my liking. But yesterday, I wrote to my local representative and my local senator. Essentially, I sent the same letter, tailoring the end to what I know about them personally. Here's what I sent:

Dear Mr. Knowles,

Tom Corbett has sent a clear message to Pennsylvania:  Education doesn’t matter because you’re all going to become criminals anyway.

Sounds shocking and erroneous, doesn’t it? That’s how it sounds to me, too, except that Corbett has basically stated just that with his attack on education and his obvious sympathy for the state’s correctional system.

Case in point: Education funding will decrease by 9.5% (to the tune of $550 million dollars) while correctional institutions will see an 11% increase and the probation/parole system will see a 6.3% increase.

What are Pennsylvanians supposed to take from this other than the fact that being well taken care of in prison is more important than an education?

These are hard economic times. It is, indeed, necessary to trim the state’s budget and to curtail spending.

But at what cost?

The United States has been on a steady decline in educational rankings in comparison to other countries. Instead of cutting funding, wouldn’t it be wiser to figure out why, to research what is working in other countries and incorporate it into our own educational systems? Wouldn’t it be wiser to replace twenty-year-old textbooks with online (and cheaper) texts that offer accurate information? Wouldn’t it be wiser to reduce class sizes to offer individualized education instead of packing classrooms with displaced students and creating an environment that isn’t only lacking educationally but is potentially dangerous?

And why contribute to a weak economy by creating more jobless? That’s what is going to happen when teachers get furloughed.

If anything, Mr. Knowles, think of your own grandson. Don’t you want him to have the best life possible? Don’t you want him to grow up to be a well-rounded and educated young man? We all want that for our children and for our grandchildren.

Well, I thought that was what we all wanted…until I saw the governor’s attack on one of the fundamental opportunities we can offer our children: a strong education.

The power is out of my hands, at least for the next four years. But it is not out of yours.

Please choose on the side of education.

Will it make a difference? Probably not based on the inane response I got; a form letter that basically passed the buck with shrug of noncommittal. But at least I tried, right?

I have to try. My husband's job, my friends' jobs, and who knows, even my job is at stake...

Also at stake? Education. These kids deserve better than to have a well-rounded education taken away from them. My son, who will be going to school in two years, deserves to have every opportunity in the world...and I am so afraid that part of that opportunity is going to be taken away.

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