Last fall, prior to the elections, I was invited by another parent, one of my kid’s soccer coach, to join Game On. Because it was prior to the elections they were asking for volunteers to look at the voting records of their own representatives, to see how they voted on school issues, so that we could advise other parents on who might best advocate for our kids.
After the election, I went to a lecture sponsored by KPI, to discuss the impending income tax cuts. It was at fancy smancy country club, and I was running late. I don’t know if it was open to the public or not, I think it was, but I was definitely not their target audience. I asked some questions about what was going to happen with the projected huge budget deficit, if their predictions that a ton of new businesses were suddenly going to come to Kansas, you know, sort of didn’t pan out right away.
I don’t really think they took me seriously, because the response was just that, well KS is just going to have to get more efficient. I responded that I thought that in light of our government’s efforts to reach maximum efficiency over the last couple of years, that seemed a pretty tall order. I then asked “what about our schools?” And they said, well, the schools you know, they have a surplus, they can use their cash reserves.
Blink. That was me. Stunned into silence.
Because I have to tell you, as a parent that just watched her district contract spending dramatically in response to the recession, I thought this was a pretty unreal response.
I know that Johnson County has a reputation for the mad money it has, and I get that it may be difficult to understand that someone from a wealthier district has any idea what it means to really be a part of a district that is financially struggling. But I want to tell you that my school is an economically diverse school, with kids from all income demographics. That 40% of the kids in my school are on the free or reduced lunch program, and that our PTA busts its hump to raise enough money to pay for all our school’s field trips so that all our kids can participate. And that when I mean our district has contracted its spending, I mean that our class room size cap is now at 29. 29. And that my kid is in a class with 28 sweet, wonderful amazing kiddos – but as a parent, you know that means TWENTY-EIGHT little people with wants and needs and sillies and wiggles and “I need to go to the bathrooms.” And that despite the fact that the other class in her grade is also at TWENTY-EIGHT, our district has said look, the cap is 29, you need four more kids to enroll in that grade before we can afford to give you another teacher.
And our district is a great district! We score well on tests; our kiddos go to college; it is doing a wonderful job. Notably, like other districts in our neck of the woods, our district received an excellent rating from Standard and Poor for efficient use of funds.
I don’t really know how anyone could possibly think that there is “fat” left to cut. We are down to lean muscle people; and we will be operating as a skeletal system here shortly.
And I know that all this, all that I have just told you about, is not any different for districts in Western Kansas. know that the rural districts have a tougher go of it – that they want to provide everything that they can for their kids, just like the parents at my school do.
Yes, there are wealthier schools in my district, and adjacent districts, who are able to do a lot for their kids with what they have. I don’t begrudge them that.
What I am mad about is that all our schools – EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL – in the state of Kansas is owed some money from the state. We have a court order people, telling our state legislature to pay up. That they have constitutionally underfunded our education system. As a mom who cuts off box tops that are worth only ten cents each so that my library can buy books, because WE DON’T HAVE A BOOK BUDGET FOR OUR LIBRARY, it seems beyond ridiculous to me that the legislature can say, well, the judges were being unfair, or they got it wrong.
You know what that sounds like to me? A deadbeat excuse.
I also want you to know that my husband is Catholic and comes from a religious family. He attended both public and religious school, and the Catholic schools in our state also do a wonderful job of providing an excellent education, with a Christ centered approach. So we have discussed it, and I have toured a beautiful private religious school, with it’s own amazing kiddos, teachers and staff.
And I have thought long and hard about what it would mean for my kids to have the opportunities there, the slightly smaller class size, the religious foundation. Don’t think I take this lightly. The recession has hurt, and it isn’t like I can just magically pull money from thin air. We all want to do what is best, and we make the best decisions we can in the places we are at spiritually and financially.
But before I made that choice, before I committed to that, I looked again at all the kids in our current public school. And I want to know, what happens to them if I go?
What happens to them if all the moms like me decide to go?
What happens to those kids who don’t have a voice? Have you looked into their bright eyes, or received their hugs for volunteering in their class parties?
Have you sat through their talent shows? Have you sold ridiculous amounts of cookie dough to try and come up with the money to make sure they can attend the symphony on a class trip?
I’m vested in these kids, my kids’ friends.
And while I know that my first obligation is to my own children, I also know that we aren’t at a hopeless place yet for public schools. There is still time to get them the money they need. And there is still time for me to dig in and fight for change.
There is still time to shift our priorities and say – our state’s Human Capital is what we want to build. And that from investing in these kids – by getting them the knowledge they need, we will reap so much more. They will be our entrepreneurs. They will be our future business. They will be the source of a strong and vital economy.
I am not here to advocate for one child at the expense of another. I am not here to say this one way – this is the best way to educate all our kids. I am here to say that we have to invest in our public schools because the kids who attend these schools need us. Our kids need us. All of us.