What struck me about these stories (as well as the other similar announcements in Cleveland and elsewhere) is how state lawmakers and officials are getting away with almost zero accountability in this whole trend. In the last budget, the state cut education funding (formula and non-formula) by nearly $3 billion in total, according to the Education Tax Policy Institute. Yet nowhere in the stories about Akron and Youngstown is this mentioned by officials in either location, except as a passing mention of generic budget cuts being part of the problem.
Remember, in HB 1 from 2009, Youngstown was set to receive an additional $33.8 million in state aid for the next 10 years, Akron $64.5 million. And that was a mere 3 years ago. What a difference a few years can make.
Just in formula money, Akron was cut $14.7 million last budget. Youngstown was cut $5.9 million. And that doesn't count non-formula cuts. Akron's budget deficit is $24 million. They will have to eliminate 139 teachers to save $13.6 million, according to the Akron Beacon Journal story. And those cuts will happen regardless of whether the people pass a levy in November. Those jobs in Akron are gone forever, barring a crisis of conscience from the state. They aren't even coming back if the district gets everything it wants at the bargaining table this year.
Is it a coincidence that the amount Akron's trying to save is just about the amount the state cut in the district's formula aid? How about Youngstown, which is eliminating more than 70 jobs, including teachers, to save $4.1 million? Again, the state could have even cut, just not as deep, and Youngstown could have avoided the need to eliminate these jobs.
And does anyone else find it ironic that these cuts were necessitated by a budget that was called "The Jobs Budget"? The very definition of misnomer.
Anyway, the jobs are just a part of what the fallout will be. Here's the non-job cuts from Akron:
The district will save another $4.6 million by canceling middle school sports and other services while spending less on supplies, textbooks, equipment, technology and software.Here's the non-job cuts from Youngstown:
As a proactive approach to maintaining a balanced budget, Beachum suggested investigating cost reductions in 13 areas: student/teacher ratio, central office / administrative staffing, health care, overtime, step increases, contract management services, building closures, high school transportation, on time supply, utilities, travel and extracurricular activities.I want someone to tell me how the elimination of these programs will benefit children and increase their achievement. Please tell me. Then show me the peer-reviewed evidence.
If one ever wanted to permanently eliminate public schools, I would think a great way to do that would be to base accountability on tests (which are closely aligned with demographics and cost money to de-couple the results from those demographics), cut funding, then raise standards higher and higher, forcing districts to breathe in space.
When you put together the state superintendent's recent statement that he wants to have kids tested more frequently, while the state cuts nearly $3 billion in cuts and the state develops new district report cards that knock 85% of school districts lower than they are rated today, one begins to wonder if that isn't the current goal.
I'm sure the districts will make do. If there's a group of professionals who have learned how to do more with less recently, it's teachers and schools. But at some point, there's no more blood to squeeze. As former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris put it: you can't cut too much before you cut the quick. Yet perhaps that's the point. Not only are revenues to districts being cut, but according to new data released from the Ohio Department of Education, the state, on average, sends out $7,100 per pupil to Charter Schools, which leaves districts with $3,390 per pupil with which to educate the same child.
So districts are being cut by the state on their top line number, AND their bottom line number.
Yet in both these stories, I was most concerned about the districts' comments. They are trying to simply make it work. No anger. No marches on Columbus. Where's the outrage?
Don't districts know there's about a $250 million budget surplus at the state? Or that there's enough potential revenue from Ohio fracking to produce a permanent school fund that could provide the equivalent of about the amount the lottery provides every year if the state simply adopted Texas' extraction fees? Are they even trying to have some of their funding restored so kids don't lose extracurriculars in the most important educational years? How about fighting so kids don't have class sizes in the 30s in the early grades when the evidence suggests that 13-17:1 class sizes in the early grades can double the likelihood of poor children graduating high school?
Instead, here's what Youngstown School Board President Lock Beachum told the Vindicator about that district's proposed cuts:
"I applaud Dr. Hathorn and his staff for the work they have done in fiscal management," said board Beachum. "It is never easy, but it is the right thing to do."When our public officials start believing that seriously figuring out how to slash jobs, increase class sizes, close buildings and eliminate extracurricular activities is "the right thing to do", what hope is there for our kids?
The hope lies with the teachers. That's the message I wanted to convey on Teacher Appreciation Week. My mom just taught her last class last week as a professor at Hiram College. She joins my dad in the ranks of the "retired" teachers. If there's a finer examination of what makes a great teacher than my father's love letter to my mother here, then I've got nothing for you.
Of course, the great ones never really retire, though. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that. And teachers will continue doing the best they can, even if it means spending more and more of their own money to provide what kids need. They will continue teaching, even if politicians try harder and harder to make that impossible. They will continue being the only adults in many children's lives who actually help them achieve their dreams, or even dream at all. They will continue to advocate and fight passionately for their kids' needs.
More folks are recognizing this state budget concern. I was encouraged that about 700 people showed up in Boardman Monday to protest state budget cuts and policies that have left the cupboard bare for the approximately 95% of kids who still attend traditional public schools. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will notice. When will they begin to care about the kids for whom they are responsible the way all my teachers cared about me?
Humans may never breathe in space, but if there's ever a human that will, you can bet it will be a teacher.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, Bill Appling, and every other teacher who made such a profound impact on me. Someday, you will have political leaders worthy of your work. So continue to teach your children well. You never know who they will become.