Governor Terry Branstad recently released his proposed budget with an increase of between .8% and 1.25% in state supplemental aid (formerly allowable growth) for schools. This has understandably come under fire from the education community. But what does a veritable freeze in school budgets do to a school district?
A school that is already strapped in administration and teaching staff has to make even more personnel reductions to keep the lights on. Supervision becomes much less consistent, raising concerns for bullying and dangerous inappropriate student behavior. Students who have to attend kindergarten classes of up to 29 students do not get the differentiated instruction they need to discover their needs as a learner and grow socially. A school that already has a bare-bones curriculum cannot be innovative in class offerings and reduces sections of core classes to tie the hands of schedule-makers when attempting to help students into the arts and other elective classes.
The teacher leadership (TLC) grant money will help districts have more teacher leaders to help with instructional practice and collaboration. This is a good thing, however, this money does nothing to keep the school doors open. Freezing school budgets requires cuts in program costs, stretches out already maxed-out teachers, and reduces the quality of programming for students. You will end up with many great ideas, but not anywhere close to the manpower necessary to execute strategies or provide quality learning experiences. Teacher quality money has also boosted teacher salaries in the past few years, but again, does nothing to increase operational program funding.
Less manpower also means less supervision. One of the Governor’s main objectives is bullying prevention. You cannot have more eyes on the situation when there are less people watching. Requiring schools to make program cuts undermines the Governor’s own education goals, rendering them impossible to realize.
This conversation may come down to teacher salaries, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with how much teachers are paid, but how schools have to deal with $4.00 gas and diesel, increased heating costs, and the ridiculous cost of providing current curricular materials (including CORE curriculum) for students. You can’t even talk about what teachers are paid when you don’t have a full teaching staff or current materials to work with.
The Governor should promote giving schools the money they need to cover increased operational costs and stop calling TLC and teacher quality money increased budget support. The state supplemental aid formula may or may not need changed, but the Governor can’t seriously consider shooting himself in the foot by expecting better learning and bullying prevention with fewer adults on campus. It’s time to untie the hands of superintendents and allow them to fund a staff and provide materials that allow for proper supervision and innovative education opportunities for students.