The balance of public school funding is paid by the middle class and we can only pay so much. With every tax cut and credit provided to large corporations and wealthy individuals, we lose, our children lose, valuable dollars that are desperately needed. Meanwhile, there is a glut of money at the top and it has nowhere to go. All of those billions of dollars have instead gone to Wall Street and this phenomenon is partially to blame for the crisis that we have had to live through over the last 1 ½ years. Institutions that are part of the public domain such as schools do not enjoy the capitol that was available 40-50 years ago.
When I was attending public school in Los Angeles, we had new books every year, pleasant buildings that were clean, well lit and safe, nutritious hot meals at lunch, playgrounds with all of the equipment that one would need, physical education classes to keep us fit, art, music and well maintained grounds. This is similar to what a private school offers today. A student during that time received a good education and could go from a public school into any university. You didn’t need to attend a private school to gain access into the best schools in the United States. You were on equal footing with your counterparts. That is not the case now and it has to do with money.
As Federal money has dwindled, municipalities and states have had to rely on property taxes, bonds and levies to fund education. Unfortunately, for many taxpayers who do not have children, public education is not a priority and school bonds and levies often do not pass. I saw this happen in California several times. Because of the state of public schools, many parents who can afford it, place their children in private schools which depletes the school districts of funds that would otherwise be allocated to those students and therefore the gap increases.
We have strangled our school system. There is overcrowding in the classrooms. A student from Franklin High School noted to the school board one night that one of her classes had 40 students in it and she said that the school needed more money. She went on to say that nothing could get done in a class that large. There is also less time spent in class. Because of the decreased budgets, class time has decreased. There are now partial school days and more days off. This has put the onus on parents, if they are able to, to supplement the time through homework sessions and/or tutors. What is left in our school system are valiant and valued teachers and school staff who keep their schools together with small budgets, a vision and a lot of hope.
Then we have Arne Duncan, inculcated with the Broad philosophy, waving a carrot in front of a very hungry populace saying, you can have the money but first you have to do a few tricks. What he wants for a relatively small amount of money is to have all states allow charter schools, but charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools do not provide equality of access to all as is the mandate of public schools. Will charter schools meet the needs of the poor and the marginalized as is mandated by the Federal government for all public schools? No, not when a charter school can expel a student if they do not perform well on a test. These are public funds that are to be used to provide for all, not just a select few. Teachers in charter schools have no protections that are provided by a union in a public school. Pay is on average less and the hours are longer.
I was having a discussion the other day with some parents about charter schools and we all agreed that our children could benefit from that situation. We have the knowledge and wherewithal to either establish or select a school that would fit the needs of our children. We would have knowledge of the programs available, we would understand how to gain access to those schools, and our students would perform up to the standards set by the school. But that is not the case for all families. There are many families who do not have access to information to make these sorts of choices, maybe they do not speak English or have access to the Internet. Maybe, due to circumstances that they have little control over, there is not enough time or resources to ensure that their children will do well on a standardized test that determines whether they remain in a charter school. It is an inherently biased system towards those who have and therefore these schools should not be publicly funded.
Sometimes, when I read about these charter schools, I think that these global corporations that fund the Broad and the like are just wanting to train the cogs in the wheel, children who can have basic information drilled into them with no opportunity for developing perspective or creative thinking skills. You then have an even more divided social stratum, the unquestioning workers/soldiers and the ruling class.
The answer to the question as to where do we go from here is two tiered. First, there is the overall picture. The idea of a trickle down economy is a myth. It is apparent to all that the idea that people who have wealth will provide opportunities for others to also prosper is absurd and I would dare to say, manufactured by those with the greatest wealth. The only businesses that I have seen prosper from the wealth of others are businesses that cater to the wealthy such as yacht makers, luxury auto dealers and of course, the brokers. The accumulated wealth of a few that has nowhere to go at the top needs to be reinvested in our country and in our future. Our future is our children. Good business practice is that you reinvest part of your profits.
Corporations have made billions of dollars from the opportunities afforded to them by simply being in the United States. That money now needs to be reinvested in our children through the reinstatement of a tax structure that is equitable and no longer allows tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies and other large corporate businesses, a financial structure that demands oil companies who drill off of our coastlines pay for that privilege and end the tax breaks for the wealthy as instituted by our previous president, George Bush. Because there has not been a significant investment in education over the last 50 years, businesses have had to look elsewhere for talent, to other countries where people have been more adequately educated. The shock for many was that they had to import talent. Microsoft is an example of that. Because of their awareness of the problem, the Gates Foundation has tried, unsuccessfully, to come up with an answer to the problem. Unfortunately there is no quick solution and actually they don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
The answer is before their eyes and in their own backyard, the alternative school system that has existed in Seattle for 40 years. The public educational system can work but it requires money to function and to function well as it did 50 years ago. This gets me to the second and more quickly attainable tier. Seattle has a rich and varied history of alternative school programs starting with Alternative School #1 (AS1) which was established in Seattle about forty years ago.
When my daughter and I moved to Seattle, I discovered the alternative school program and was greatly impressed by what the school district had to offer. There are programs for students K-12 at various locations throughout Seattle. High schools such as Nova have a track record of high test scores, the WASL Language Arts scores are the higherst in the city, and placement in some of our best colleges in the country. There are waiting lists into each of these programs and the level of quality of the staff is outstanding. These well established programs need to be maintained and supported. These schools provide an opportunity for all students to succeed, not just a select few. That is what Seattle has and other schools can be developed based on the proven track record of the original alternative school program structure. Governor Gregoire has stated this to Arne Duncan when pressed about charter schools. The state of Washington should receive the additional funding that Mr. Duncan is providing under the Race to the Top program because we have those programs in place. AS#1 established a charter with the public school system in the 1960’s.
The answer can truly be in your own back yard. What we already have is tried and true. The basic tenets of these programs can be used in developing new schools that can provide an even greater diversity for our students and an opportunity for all students to succeed.