Earlier this week, the legislative body of West Virginia voted to approve a bill that would allow for diversion of public-school funds to charter schools, home schooling and online programs as well as make it easier to lay teachers off. While the issue of charter schools is a complicated with points to be made on both sides of the argument, this bill is just the most recent in a national trend of proposals heavily opposed by public school teachers.
These teachers are some of the hardest working, most underpaid, and sometimes under appreciated and most professionals in America. They are also generally some of the most committed.
The role that public school teachers fulfill is incredibly important, but many come into work every day not knowing if they will have the books or materials they need to effectively do their job.
It goes without saying that the state of public education — a guaranteed right in this country — is in a dubious state in many parts of the United States. Around the country, states continue to cut funding for public education. In many situations, teachers end up on furlough because school districts can’t afford to pay their salaries. While students may relish these extra days without class, these types of measures should not be necessary.
It is not unusual for states to look to public school funding when they are looking to make budget cuts. This effect was very prominent during the recession of 2007 when many states ended up cutting their budgets by up to double digit percentages. Many of these states have yet to return their public education funding to pre-recession levels.
While states generally do have to make tough decisions on what to spend money on, it goes without saying that pulling funds from public education is nearsighted to put it generously. The education of children at the earliest level is incredibly important. Quality early public education has the potential to decrease, if not eliminate, socioeconomic disparities in this country.
Most public schools are funded by local taxes from the areas they serve. This means that lower income areas tend to have less funding for their schools. This results in lower quality facilities and materials and less technology to facilitate learning. While the teachers in these schools are by no means lower quality teachers, it is more difficult for them to effectively do their jobs. Less funding can also result in a higher student to teacher ratio and larger class sizes. This forces teachers to give individual students less attention, which, of course, has many negative implications.
This is where funding, both state and local comes in. These auxiliary funds serve to equalize the disparity for schools in lower income areas. Public schools are the front lines in the fight against cyclical poverty, and extra funding is essential to their effectiveness.
An investment in education is an investment in the future. A multitude of studies have shown that effective early education has a strong correlation to later success. Many politicians bemoan the outsourcing of technical jobs overseas while simultaneously cutting the funds for the education that has the potential to instill a love of learning in kids from an early age.
Not only do public school teachers generally have to accept a low salary, but often their classrooms do not receive the necessary funding for crucial materials. It is not uncommon that public school teachers are forced to either spend personal funds or crowd-source funding for equipment that is necessary for their lessons. Whether it is computers for a coding class or textbooks for a math class, there is no reason that teachers should have to pay for these essential materials out of pocket.
While it is not generally their strength, elected officials need to focus on the future. They need to stop being so nearsighted and do what they are elected to do — make policies that are in the best interest of their constituents. They need to make policies that keep in mind the importance of the younger generation. They need to recognize the value of planning for the future. They need to recognize the commitment and enthusiasm that public school teachers bring to a sometimes thankless and almost always difficult job. Most of all, they need to recognize the importance of public education and budget accordingly.