What I keep coming back to, over and over, is the money. Our elementary school recently received a Federal Grant to serve fresh fruits and vegetables twice a week. Twice a week, the kids in one of our three area elementary schools gets to serve a fresh fruit or vegetable, along with a little pamphlet and fun workbook and some recipes for the featured item. While it is really, really neat that we got this grant, as I am almost 100% sure there are some children here who have never tasted a fresh strawberry, I am appalled that we have to apply for grants in order to provide this kind of food for our kids. Where is the money that it would take to provide healthy school meals-including fresh fruits and vegetable-for all of the kids in the entire district?
Public school is supposed to provide a free education for all children. Period. However, Public Education is not free. Simply to register my three school aged kids cost upward of $250, which does not include school supplies or clothing or any kind of extra-curricular activities; that was simply to get them in the door. In the nine weeks since school has begun, I have also been required to pay additional fees for certain classes for the high school kids, as well as send more money to help pay for the school-sanctioned field trips for Sam. The school supply list clearly states, "The purchase of school supplies is voluntary and is not required as a condition of enrollment. If you cannot afford to purchase school supplies, they will be provided for you." So, okay-voluntary. Except if you don't send your child with the requisite number of notebooks and crayons, you get notes sent home until you DO; that doesn't seem very voluntary to me. And who pays for the school supplies not provided for by the school? Other parents fill in some of the blank spots by bringing in extra items, but the majority of the supplies are not paid for by the school, but by the teachers themselves. Out of their own pockets.
The fact that our school are requiring extra money from parents AND teachers in order to provide the very basic necessities for the children is alarming; the lack of federal funding for education started with certain "non-essential" programs being cut, and this lack of funding has now trickled down to the very bottom of the barrel. Here where I live, in the last four years we have lost funding for Physical Education, Art, and Music at the Elementary level. Those cuts affect every student in the district. What used to be a thriving Talented and Gifted Program is now simply gone-no money. My Sam is in the Elementary Orchestra, but I have to pay for the rental of his violin (a violin provided by the school, but I have to pay). The list goes on and on.
I would understand and support this personal increase in cost were the school channeling all available funds toward increasing the students chances for success. However, in our tri-town area, there are four high schools, NONE of which measure up to the state standards. We have in effect the clause that allows us to switch our child to a different district with no penalty in order to provide them with a higher quality education, but since none of the schools are up to state standards, we don't have any options. Instead of using what little funds are available to improve classroom standards and reduce class sizes, the money is going toward making sure all students can pass the standardized achievement tests AND to make sure that those children whose parents can afford to have them on a sports team get the best coaches in the state.
I would like to have some answers as to how our nation can sanction a war that funnels billions of dollars a DAY to aid another country instead of securing our own nation's children the education that they need to not just succeed but survive. I would like to know when the "free education for all citizens" became "an education for anyone who can afford it." I would like to know what is going to happen to our kids when we set them loose in the world with no education beyond the very, very basics. Our children are going to be competing with people from other countries whose entire focus has been on education, and are going to come out on the bottom. What is it going to take for our government to realize that in order to make our nation once again the place it was intended to be, we are going to have to invest in our children like we never have before? I know some of the most brilliant, talented children-two of my four included-who are falling through the educational cracks based on the fact that they are not getting what they need from public school. Not because they are lazy or unmotivated, but because every door they open is blocked off by an invisible force field called "The Budget." When are we as parents going to stand up and hold our country accountable for the the fact that out country is failing the very commodity we should be making our first priority?
I don't have any answers, and God knows I can't do it on my own. I do try at home to make up for some of the things that the schools can't provide-I try to expose all of my kids to a variety of different cultures and lifestyles, we listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and the monthly arrival of The Smithsonian and National Geographic are eagerly awaited by all of us, even the baby. I try very hard to let my kids be around people who know more than I do about the workings of the world than I do, but I can't alone take the place of a good education. All I can do is my part.
For my part, I have signed up to be a caller to remind people to vote. I have signed petitions and sent email to our state offices crying out for my questions and concerns about education to be answered. I try to keep in the loop about what is happening at school, and I give as much support as I can to my children's teachers, whose hands are even more tied than mine are. I believe that we are powerful, and strong, and have what it takes to make changes, but people, we aren't going to get anything changed if we just sit back and talk about it. Like I said, I don't have the answers, but I am asking questions; don't you think if we all asked the right questions, someone would take us seriously?
All too soon, we are going to be dead and rotting in the ground, and what happens then? If WE don't do something now, the worst thing possible will happen, and that is nothing.