The insanity of cost savings for those who should not be spending

Recently, the AP released a story about North Carolina parents receiving lists that are longer than usual for supplies that their children will need for school. It seems that even though some defenders of the state budget claim that the state has never spent so much money on education as it is spending right now (a fact disproven by the data), there just are not enough supplies for North Carolina’s classrooms. This is just more proof of how the budget falls short on supporting public education.

The list sent by a teacher mentioned in the story includes such basics as paper to make copies and materials to clean the classroom.

“We horde supplies,” said Ashley Montgomery, who teaches kindergarten at Nancy Reynolds Elementary School in Stokes County. “If there’s anything to grab, we grab it. Because whatever the parents bring in is what we’ve got for the year, unless we go out and buy it ourselves.”

The list Montgomery sent home with her students is pretty typical — notebook, crayons, glue sticks, pencils, etc. But, like many other teachers across the state, she also asked parents to provide copier paper, cleaning supplies and other items that were once provided by the school.

“We don’t have the funds we need,” said Montgomery, who has been teaching 10 years. “It gets kind of frustrating when you hear about some of the things they’re spending money on down in Raleigh and we don’t have paper.”

The simple facts reported in the AP story are enough to render the claims of those responsible for the budget utterly maddening. Whatever the state is spending, the growing list of supply demands make clear that it is not enough.

But when you think about it, of course, it’s crazy that parents and teachers have to spend any money to get supplies in the first place. We have become so accustomed to the list being sent to parents that the story is that the list is longer. The story should be that we even have a list at all.

Our Parent Teacher Associations are given the responsibility to conduct fundraisers. Some have made it easy by partnering with grocery stores to get a percentage of a parent’s purchase. Some of the fundraising provides money so teachers can buy equipment. But PTAs should not carry this burden. The state should provide everything a child needs for his or her educational experience. We have become too used to this being a function of parents.

Even more appalling is that we expect teachers to dig into their already low-paid pockets to buy supplies. It takes 15 years for a North Carolina public school teacher to make $40,000 but it only takes one trip to Staples or Office Depot to get a discount for supplies.

Parents living in poverty should not fear or be ashamed that when the list comes to their home that they will not be able to purchase everything or anything on the list.


Politicians mislead on voucher program

One of the things people rightfully dislike about their government is when they are not told the truth. Sadly, in the ongoing debate about North Carolina’s new school voucher plan many politicians have been doing just that.

In an apparent effort to lessen the controversy, some legislators have been claiming that that it is “essentially a pilot program.” It is not. The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” is a full-blown government program similar to ones that have failed miserably in several jurisdictions. It has no expiration date and its sponsors have made plain their intention to expand it.

In explaining the education budget, one state senator wrote:

In regards to the Opportunity Scholarship Act, this is a pilot program for low income families.  Many children in low income families are forced to attend low-performing schools because they do not have the opportunity that wealthier families have to move to better schools.  We simply want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity to succeed; it is by no means a sign that lawmakers lack confidence in our public schools.

At least four obvious responses deserve mention: Read more


The Problem of Volunteer School Resource Officers

The North Carolina General Assembly released its compromised budget on Sunday night.  A look at the budget shows that public education is no longer a priority for this legislature.  While there are several things that are problematic about this budget, there one issue in particular that we wish to highlight. The legislature created a volunteer school safety resource program.  While there were bills that concerned school safety, including a volunteer marshal program, this provision coming in the budget is somewhat surprising.

In a reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the General Assembly created a volunteer school safety resource officer program.  Research demonstrates that school resources officers escalate adolescent behavior into criminal behavior.  Paid school resource officers do not receive enough training.  There is no reason to believe that volunteer officers will be better trained than their salaried counterparts.  When law enforcement is involved the likelihood of suspensions or expulsions expand.  If a student is 16 or 17 years old, an adolescent schoolyard fight can lead to adult consequences since North Carolina is one of two states that send 16 and 17 years old to the adult court system.  The evidence also shows us that children of color will have disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system.

This provision is also troubling because it smacks of the posses of the Wild West.  But this is not an old Western movie because students become a part of the very real school-to-prison pipeline.  Even though the volunteers are required to have a law enforcement background, work as a police officer is different from work as a school resource officer.  The job requires an understanding of brain development and why children and adolescents do some of the things they do.  Volunteers may also have a background as military police.  Military training is different than law enforcement training.  The effort and time that it would take to train volunteer school resource officer could be better used to safety issues that we know work like positive behavioral intervention and supports.

The truth is that we cannot stop random unpredictable people who wish to harm our children.  We can, however, protect our children from the overcriminalization of their conduct by preventing the very predictable possibilities of volunteer school resources officers.

This is by no means the only troubling issue in this budget but it certainly needs to be addressed.  Although this budget is likely to pass, we cannot allow matters as important as this to go through without dissent.


First Day of School, Another Day of Confusion for Wake Students

Few things are more nerve racking than the first day of school.  Children worry about their new classmates.  They wonder if the teacher is mean or tough.  They worry if they can do the work that is asked of them when advancing a grade.  Of course, parents worry too.  They move into Wake County for the excellent educational reputation (which has lost some of its luster in recent years).  Still, they are anxious about turning their children over to another new school year.

The concerns of students and their parents assume that the child can get to school.  On the first day of school, Wake County Public Schools System’s (WCPSS) transportation plan was, to put it plainly, a mess.  Even though the legislature cut funding for transportation, Wake parents and students should not have suffered through this.

According to an article in the News & Observer, Wake County reduced the number of buses to obtain state funding in yet another confusing formula where schools receive a benefit for efficiency.

If the state sees what happened on the first day of school, there is not anyway that Wake County could possibly receive funding for efficiency.  Parents and students were at bus stops waiting for buses that were late or that never came at all.  School transportation is not mass transit, yet parents were asking where buses were going as if they were at Moore Square Bus Station. Read more


Going Pro

A recent op-ed in the New York Times discusses the importance of paying teachers well. North Carolina should heed some of the suggestions made by the authors. In order to make teaching an attractive option for recent college graduates, it must not seem like a low-paying, high-stress job. Rather, it has to be a career where they are well-compensated for being caretakers of the state’s students. Teaching needs to be professionalized rather than marginalized. We are not going to do that with meager salaries, larger student to teacher ratios and no teacher assistants. Thus far, it appears that closing a budget gap is more important than opening a child’s mind.

We are also not going to professionalize the occupation by using students’ test scores as the primary measure of instructional success. We ask teachers to make students better citizens who are prepared for college and employment but that cannot be done if all of the teacher’s (and student’s) worth is tied up in a test score.

Teaching will not be professionalized in the state if traditional public school teachers all have to be college graduates with teaching certification while public charter schools only require 75% of their elementary school teachers to be certified and a mere 50% of middle school and high school teachers need to be certified. The only teachers that must possess college degrees in a public charter school are those who teach core courses in sixth through twelve grades. Different standards are not going to professionalize teaching.

We are fortunate to have great teachers in North Carolina including Zebetta King and Amanda Northrup who are 2010 Awardees for The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. North Carolina has true teaching professionals. We will not elevate teaching to the point where we can recruit and retain the best and brightest until we make it a true profession.