|Posted on March 7, 2010 at 9:40 AM|
Toward the end of the French and Indian War, George III became the British monarch, inheriting not only an empire that spanned the globe, but also the responsibility of paying an enormous debt incurred in that Seven Years' War. Unwilling to further risk the rebellious wrath of his European subjects who, for years, had been paying high taxes, George turned to his American colonies for increased revenue, imposed the presence of ten thousand British soldiers and all the related costs of maintaining such troops, and followed that with a series of unwelcome taxes, leaving for all time a bitter taste for taxation in these colonies. The long, expensive war that had extended to four continents had begun, after all, in the Americans' own back yard.
The United States today is facing an economic challenge that encompasses increased military costs, rising public-safety expenses, and the continuing expectation that each generation will enjoy a standard of living that equals or exceeds that of preceding generations. But with increases in personal income slowing, and with an overall tightening of personal spending, voters in many states willingly elect governors who promise to lower taxes at the state level, despite tax decreases already enacted at the federal level, leaving the burden of funding public services to the local tax base. Educational expenses, increasingly reliant on local real-estate taxes, are, after all, costs incurred in the taxpayers' own backyard.
Educators operate under difficult constraints: an effort to increase local revenues is met with local resistance; seeking higher state and federal contributions incurs widely organized resistance. Allocating taxes to meet escalating costs is somehow seen as wasteful spending. Year after year, school districts go before local taxpayers and ask for funding as a child might approach a parent for an allowance. Some needs are met; many are not.
American parents, dedicated to securing that quality standard of living for their children, readily acknowledge the importance of education. Often, parents seek ways to "be involved" in their local education system, as they hear constantly that such involvement is the best route toward ensuring that their children will be successful. Early in the year, parents will ask their child's teacher, "How can I help?" They are sincere. They are, however, not always aware of what might really be needed.
School personnel have an opportunity and an obligation to clarify what schools need from parents and from other volunteers in the local community: a strong, well-defended budget that logically, predictably, and annually increases to keep pace with inflation, with increased enrollments, with expanding, mandated curriculum requirements, and with ordinary maintenance expenses. Each day staff members witness the effects of reduced services created by level-funded budgets: less direct supervision of children before and after the academic day, larger classes that limit student/teacher interactions, and aging buildings that require repairs so extensive that ordinary cleaning is a lower priority. Schools know of crowded bus routes that start children's days with a harried tone and of double-run buses that leave children waiting in a limbo between the classroom and the home. Volunteers usually envision themselves working side-by-side with the teachers, enriching small groups, having meaningful conversations with students. Parents willingly offer this type of support to teachers, and teachers extend themselves in giving parents room for such experiences, often providing their volunteers with coaching, materials, and organized space as well - in effect, adding responsibilities to the teacher's role rather than reducing the myriad tasks that limit the teacher's energy and attention with the students. Yet, those with large classes welcome this offer for in-classroom assistance. While the parent occupies a number of students, teachers can, on occasion, more closely observe students, record their progress, adjust their own perceptions, and respond to individual questions. This volunteerism gives the illusion of improving student/teacher ratios. It does not, however, provide for consistency or for smaller classes; it may, in fact, harm efforts in that direction, mis-leading parents, and the community at large, to believe that the budget shortfalls are being addressed by volunteerism, when they are not.
To address the larger picture, we can invite volunteers from the community to help in varied ways within our schools. Beyond providing a presence in the classroom, volunteers are needed in the school library to shelve books, dust, disinfect washable surfaces, supervise students waiting for late buses, and offer after-school assistance with homework. They are needed in the school office to welcome visitors, sign late passes, make photocopies, and yes, dust and clean counters and equipment. They are needed in the corridors and the cafeteria during busy lunch periods to encourage good food choices and to reinforce order and responsible behaviors. They are needed as shoppers to purchase and/or to donate specific supplies for school and classroom activities. They are needed on the playgrounds to offer a moment of quiet conversation to children or to monitor an active sports activity. They are needed on buses and on busy street corners where school children cross. They are needed in high schools to share career expectations and to model participatory citizenship.
These willing folks are most needed, though, in public. We need, in chorus with our own, their voices in town meetings, their votes in the ballot box, and their participation on finance committees as often as on school committees. We need their letters in local papers. We need their presence in our state houses, and their messages sent to Washington. Having spent real time in the classrooms and corridors, in the libraries, offices, and cafeterias, they can better advocate for funding the comprehensive needs of all of our schools. They might feel better about taxation with representation, taxation that they are actively soliciting, rather than passively experiencing. By raising the revenues that will responsibly provide for the next generation's needs, they will make a larger difference, one that extends well beyond their own backyard.
By Terry Palardy, Copyright National Forum, Phi Kappa Phi Journal Summer 2002
Please note: Though this column was written nearly eight years ago, the same economic situation exists today, and public support for public schools remains our American responsibility ... please advocate for raising revenues to provide the education that our next generation deserves. In support of adequate funding, allow me to quote the original Democratic/Republican president here (and yes, the two parties were once one...)
"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." --Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:207
"Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to JamesMadison, 1787. Madison Version FE 4:480
"If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." --Thomas Jefferson to M. A. Jullien, 1818. ME 15:172
These quotes and more can be found at the University of Virginia site: