I spent half of today at the District office in a meeting with stakeholder groups and representatives from our state assemblyman. This meeting was to discuss legislation sponsored by our district and other members of our state’s education coalition to add to base funding for all schools under our state’s fledgling Local Control Funding Formula, a formula built primarily on equity and not the adequacy of funding.
The need for such a meeting speaks to the crisis that public education finds itself in across the nation. Decades of attacks from those who wish to privatize education have born fruit. Enrollment in teacher education courses is down nationwide. Many of our best and brightest students do not consider teaching a viable occupation–there’s too little incentive to join the profession in the current climate of teacher bashing, steep budget and job cuts, increased data collection and workload, and decreased pay, benefits, prestige, autonomy, and academic freedom.
My adoptive state (I moved here 20 years ago) currently ranks near the bottom in per pupil funding, so the assemblyman’s upcoming bill to attempt to bring us closer to the middle of the pack is welcome news. I know that I will be working with him and his office to pass this key piece of funding legislation this spring. And we are a state that is considered friendly to public education, so that should be a signal as to the dire state of public education funding in our nation.
I can only hope that the discussion on the need to adequately fund public education can work its way back to the forefront of our national dialogue. I’m not hopeful with anti-public school folks like Betsy De Vos at the helm in the Department of Education, but I do have hope for statehouses across the country to address the issue. My home state of Oklahoma has been especially hard hit with funding and teacher shortages due to years of trickle-down policies coupled with austerity budgets. Last year’s state teacher of the year famously left the state for better pay. Oklahoma, one of the reddest and most poverty stricken states in the union, has a long way to go to address their funding issues that leave many districts with four-day school weeks and high teacher turnover. But the revolution of teachers running for public office and forcing the dialogue will hopefully bear fruit in the long run even if it hasn’t worked in the short run.
Thomas Jefferson supported the notion of locally controlled public education in its infancy. He and his fellow intellectuals from the Enlightenment believed that knowledge was essential to maintaining a free society. He even founded the University of Virginia on a parcel of land owned by President James Monroe (along with help from President James Madison and a few others) to develop the “illimitable freedom of the human mind.” It’s time we started living up to the lofty ideals of our founding fathers.
“Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys