PAYING THE PRICE
Public school funding has been a topic of discussion since the first school was developed in America. While it was required for every child to be educated, there was no requirement for them to be educated in a school building. Over the years, the question of who should foot the bill to educate children has continuously found itself as the focus of many educational debates, and even recently, on the floors of Congress. In the end, our children get short changed. While private schools, that are often run by churches or organizations where only those who can afford to pay can have their children educated, charge to be educated, public schools rely on federal, state, and local funding in order to function. School funding is at the core of how well school systems are run and serve children and families in their communities.
Enter the coronavirus pandemic. While it has taken many lives, and caused lockdowns of countries globally, it has also shown the world the inequities and inadequacies of the public-school systems in America. Businesses believed they should have been first in line for relief. What about schools? Big business wanted schools to be open and seemed to forget that for that to happen, funding was necessary. It was clear that the only reason why businesses wanted schools to open was because they wanted their employees to return to work. There was an outcry for funding by unions, governors, and school leaders all hoping that The Cares Act would provide the relief they needed. When it did come, our children were again short changed. Even now, nine months since the first school closings, our education systems are still suffering with no true means of support in the horizon from the federal government, but who ultimately pays the price?
Over the years, while many school systems have struggled to provide adequate funding for their schools, many have chosen not to fully rely on state and federal funding and would instead look to the community and the property taxes they pay to help sustain their schools. With the onset of the pandemic, many school systems complained that they were stretched to the limit. They had to now ensure that their students were provided with the utensils needed for learning remotely, and that came with a hefty price tag. School systems became hopeful that the CARES Act would bring them much needed relief they needed, but when it did come, it did not make the grade. Every school district that was already stretched to limit, were still left holding an empty bag. Bipartisanism took center stage in Congress, while our children and their families suffered the consequences.
When schools closed in March, many students went home to be taught by their parents. It seemed that the mechanisms had not been in place to allow for seamless transition from in person to online learning. With the way in which the pandemic was quickly spreading across the country, schools were the last thing on the minds of many. For many students, there was no school for the rest of the school year. For others, there was remote learning. We heard of many school systems trying to plan for the new school year by ordering the devices they needed to ensure that they would meet the needs of their students in the new school year. While teachers tried to do the best they could, the media spoke often about the demands that businesses had for their employees to return to work, as if the pandemic had suddenly disappeared. When we did hear about the children, it was only in the context of schools reopening for parents to return to work, completely ignoring the risks of the virus that continued to spread globally. Amid the “planning” for big businesses to get their employees back to work, while the number of positive COVID cases rose, some school systems had their staff go on strike rather than put themselves and their students at risk by entering those school buildings. Some, like New York City, were very intent on opening, no matter the cost.
New York City Public Schools, the largest public school system in the country had their Chancellor make decisions that were not conducive to the safety of its students. Like many school leaders of other states, the safety and well-being of the children were touted, but adequate measures with adequate funding were not in place. While these leaders stood before the media saying one thing, behind the scenes, the schools were being told something else. Instead these people continue to play a game of not today maybe tomorrow with our children, unable to decide the best steps to take to ensure that no one gets sick or dies from this virus. Our children and those who work in the schools continue to suffer from their lack of humanity and their ineptitude. Our children are paying an extremely high price for the lack of planning, lack of preparation and lack of funding, but in the end, who will be held accountable for this massive failure?
Fraser, J.W. (2019). The School in the United States: A Documentary History (4th ed.). Routledge.
Goldberg, E. (2020, October 28). What it’s like to be a teacher in 2020 America. The New York Times. www.nytimes.com
Perry, A. (2020). Time to fight for the funding our kids need to mend the coronavirus wreckage. Retrieved www.hechingerreport.org