Note: This week on the blog, parents who have chosen a variety of schooling options will be sharing their educational wishes for 2016.
by Shawn Frost
What would make 2016 a success in my eyes? I view this question as a school board member, as an education policy analyst, and in my most important role: father to two children attending public schools of choice.
When I think about what should happen in the year ahead, the three roles converge. I want education system to move from a “but” mentality to a healthier “and” mentality.
Too often, we engage in “but” thinking and settle for what is called the sucker’s choice between two objectionable outcomes.
For example: We want a public education system that adequately rewards teachers for their efforts, but local dollars are constrained. That might seem like the end of discussion: We must choose between local tax increases or impoverished teachers. Let’s look at that same sentence with “and” thinking. We want a public education system that adequately rewards teachers for their efforts, and local dollars are constrained. This is a sentence that now asks “What next?” Suddenly we have more possibility. We can look at spending in other areas. We can look at fighting for state dollars for programs that can attract high-performers to the teaching profession.
As a father of children attending a public charter school, I get frustrated when my children come home with ruined shoes because they had to trudge through standing water on their campus. As an activist and school board member, I know that there are choices made in Tallahassee and locally that make it financially impossible for the school to do the drainage work necessary to fix this problem without diverting money from the classroom and compromising the school’s core mission of educating children.
These are public schools that receive $386 per student in capital funds compared to $1,330 that students in the same district schools receive. Why? Charter schools are public schools falling into disrepair, but districts feel they aren’t legally obligated to share capital outlay funding with them on an equal per-student basis.
I’ve heard other school board members say that if our district had the money, we would share it, but we have to take care of “our kids” first (meaning the kids in district schools). This same board has found money to build a $7 million administration building. They are reasonable people, and I sincerely think that they would arrive at a different view if they considered this issue with an and mentality.
If we had the money, we would share it, and we have to take care of our kids first. They are all our kids. How do we make it happen?
Parents, legislators, board members, and district staff: let’s admit that in 2015, our “but” was too big. Let’s reward teachers and be fiscally responsible. Let’s take care of our district facilities and provide equitable funding for all public school students. Let’s focus on improving our district schools, and support other options for families that want them. Let’s make 2016 the year of “and.”