Taking a bite out of schools … and our future

Opinion May 18, 2011 0 Comments

Taking a bite out of schools … and our future

by Pete Mazzaccaro

On Sunday, some 200 local residents attended a rally at the Trolley Car Diner to protest impending cuts to the city’s education budget.

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The group of public school parents and children wanted to call attention to the fact that those budget cuts – at both the state and local level – will further cripple public schools by dramatically harming a number of important programs.

What will be cut? Locally, according to Protect Public Education, an organization of parents and educators fighting the cuts in Philadelphia, public schools in the city will see the end of all-day kindergarten, the elimination of transportation, a 50 percent reduction in gifted and talented programs and across-the-board reductions to staff, including police, nurses, music teachers and counselors.

PPE and other education advocates warn that those cuts will only further erode the quality of education afforded to students who need it the most. I have to agree.

The reduction of Kindergarten alone will be devastating to many, as parents will be forced to pay more for after-school care and cut hours off of their work schedules. It’s also giving up valuable education time to children at what most experts believe is a critical age.

Philadelphia public school advocates are not alone. Battle lines have been drawn across the state and across the country as tighter budgets have sent politicians everywhere scrambling to save money by working over budgets to cut spending.

Driving across Montgomery County, you can’t help but notice the signs on lawns for a coming and heated battle for positions on school boards in nearly every district. The cuts to state aid and dwindling revenues everywhere have left school boards faced with the same tough choices – cuts in programs or higher taxes. As many of the red signs I see suggest (I’m guessing Republican by the color because the signs are never specific), a lot of school board candidates are telling voters they’ve been taxed enough. That message will likely resonate with nearly anyone paying high property taxes without a child in school. In fact, the tax message resonates with nearly everyone.

As citizens, then, we’re forced with an even tougher choice. One that, in fact, seems impossible: higher taxes or less quality in the schools? For many, neither option is acceptable. As a result, I’ve noticed that parents are beginning to turn on teachers and public school unions. The logic goes: If the unions demanded less, then we could make up some of the losses and keep programs. But the unions won’t budge, so we’re forced to lay off people and cut kindergarten.

At the rate this is going, there will be no end to the cuts. States and municipalities are going to continue to look for cost savings in public service. And because public school parents are not a strong lobbying group, they’ll be forced to continue and accept reduced quality at their schools. When will it end?

We cannot continue to make education a budget issue. The best achieving nations in the world right now have the strongest public education systems. We have to stand by public education funding and make it a priority, not another line item that could use a good trim to avoid tax increases and bolster a politician’s resume.

Education is the best thing we can spend money on to make sure our children do better than we do. Right now, we’re not doing a very good job of making sure that happens.

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