The budget cuts we face this fall are likely to create a cascade of effects that could lead to the collapse of public education in America. We are facing a disaster for our schools that is different from an earthquake or hurricane, in that it is man-made. It is being forced upon us by choices being made by those in power, who no longer wish to provide the funds needed to sustain a basic service - more than a service - a basic right guaranteed by our state constitution.
In the state of California, one political party has decided that the economy cannot afford the taxes our schools need to be sustained at even a minimal level. State taxes here are largely connected to the value of recently sold real estate. Thus, the collapse in the real estate bubble has had a calamitous effect on tax revenue, and the Republicans are refusing to even allow a proposition on the ballot that would allow not new taxes, but an extension of some existing taxes to cover part of the deficit. Even with these revenues, the state would be cutting $12 billion. Without them, we are looking at cuts of $25 billion.
This will result in a projected cut of $900 per student. This week school districts around the state sent out layoff notices to thousands of teachers. In Oakland, one teacher in four got a pink slip, as did every principal. If these cuts go through, we will see class sizes increase to 35 to 40 students per class, and we will lose every single counselor and librarian. Special education students currently receiving the benefit of smaller classes and specialized instruction will be merged into regular classes, and even the aides that assist them will be laid off, or given caseloads of dozens to support.
And where are our “education reformers” in this crisis? Billionaires like Bill Gates who have made increasing the quality of public education the center of their charitable work have been entirely unhelpful. Mr. Gates suggests increasing sizes from 23 students to 28 as a means of cutting costs, ignoring the fact that most of our classes are already beyond that upper number. Michelle Rhee has launched a campaign to try to get rid of seniority. Instead of insisting that schools be adequately funded, her Students First group is focused on using these cuts to divide teachers between those who are “good” and should be protected from layoffs, and those who are “bad” and deserve the pink slip. And our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dutifully echoes these sentiments, in between his speeches praising teachers.
The fate of our schools is directly tied to the economic and social circumstances of our neighborhoods. The fact is our communities are in a sustained economic crisis. As Deborah Meier pointed out this week, in Chicago more than half the adult African Americans are unemployed, and one in three live in poverty. Across our nation, one in four children live in poverty, and these children are concentrated at many of our schools.
This Saturday the mainstream media finally woke up to this fact, and Al Roker led a special report, Child Hunger Ends Here. The impending budget cuts are going to devastate schools that have been the one safe refuge for many of these children. Teachers and parents are organizing the Save Our Schools March this summer in DC in response. But from the champions of “education reform,” we have not heard a peep. Why is that? Billionaires got your tongue?
What do you think? How are the budget cuts likely to affect children in YOUR community? Who is taking a stand for them?
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.