By John Meeks
If you are a stakeholder in Duval County Public Schools, I ask that you not wait until 2020 to develop hindsight on what you could have done to help save our students from being shortchanged again.
Spring is here and its time again for principals throughout the district to meet with their respective faculties and school-related personnel to review their budgets for the 2019-20 school year. The odds are that cuts will be made.
For starters, there are schools that were categorized as Title I due to a hiccup in how those schools are categorized as such. Due to recent natural disasters and FEMA claims, a larger number of schools received additional funding which now goes away next school year.
At the heart of my worries, though, is that we are in the middle of a legislative session during which our state’s elected leaders are preparing an education budget that could mean the difference between continued austerity and a fighting chance for our traditional public schools.
I traveled to Tallahassee over the course of my spring break to learn about how I could personally connect with the Florida Legislature regarding public education. What I saw was a legislative body that has made up its mind to continue to throw money at charter schools in the form of more scholarships to lure students away from traditional public schools that are being deliberately underfunded by our state government.
Take for example, the scholarship that bullying victims can use to leave their neighborhood school to attend a charter or private school. This is predicated on the false notion that traditional public schools are not sympathetic to the needs of bullied students. There are many factors that tie the teachers’ hands. And, if the bully is receiving Exceptional Students Education (ESE) services, there are going to be a lot more hoops through which to jump. How much support does the state lend to mental health services in our public schools?
And speaking of ESE services. I noticed the continued support for McKay and Gardiner Scholarships that are designed to help students with special needs. I find it curious that our state is eager to find private and charter schools for students with special needs but is unwilling to adequately fund services for our student with special needs in traditional public schools. And, no, inclusion has been used and abused beyond recognition. We all know that inclusion has its purpose when used to help mainstream more and ‘warehouse’ less. We have seen, however, inclusion being used as a way to cut essential push-in, consultation, self-contained services to save a few dollars.
When it comes to working in traditional public schools these days, we are doing everything we can to save dollars. I have gotten used to picking up copy paper when I make a run to Costco. I have gotten used to stapling upwards of 120 copies because we cannot afford staples for our copy machine.
It’s more than just supplies that are suffering under cutbacks after cutbacks. I am tiring of seeing schools being disrupted by the surplus process every year. Because of lower student enrollment and education funding that has been stagnant since 2007 when accounting this FTE per student amount for inflation, we are unable to keep an entire faculty Intact from August until June anymore these days. I firmly believe that this climate is what is causing a decline in colleges of education, a mass exodus of frustrated new teachers, and a looming shortage crisis that should already have raised alarm bells.
Now is the time. Now is the time for us to contact our state legislators to demand that they properly fund our public schools. Now is the time for us to contact our school board members and demand that they budget our schools fairly to ensure that every student receives the best education. Now is the time take action that will make 2019-2020 what we want it to be for our students and our community.
Please speak up and speak out for our schools!