For several years now, most school systems have been mired in financial crises. While budget woes have tapered off in some areas over the past six months as the economy has picked up a bit, others are still struggling, says Daniel Kaufman, spokesperson for the National Education Association.
This can mean layoffs or cutting back on materials, programs and extracurricular activities; it can also mean making parents pay for bus transportation or getting rid of bus service altogether.
At the same time, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal education reform law passed in 2002, has put an additional burden on the schools, increasing the demands on available money. NCLB dictates that districts administer standardized achievement tests, develop systems to track the results, and retrain teachers and paraprofessionals to meet a “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirement. In cases where schools are not meeting the test score standards – or making “Adequate Yearly Progress” – for two years in a row, those schools must then pay to have the children tutored and bussed to other, better-performing schools.
With the focus on reading and math scores under NCLB, schools are also being forced to put most of their resources into these subjects. In many cases, Kaufman says, this has resulted in cutbacks on art and music, foreign language, social studies and physical education. For the time being, school budgets continue to strain under the requirements of NCLB and the limitations of a still recovering economy.
Parents and educators around the country will undoubtedly keep striving to find creative ways to lessen the impact of these fiscal woes on their schools. (See “Funding Fundamentals”.) And, as a side benefit, parent-teacher relationships will go stronger as we all unite to help our children succeed.
With elections fast approaching, the presidential candidates will surely be invoking the issue of education in order to win voters. But parents will need to stay vigilant because these are ongoing concerns, and they will continue to demand our attention well beyond Nov. 2.
Looking for more information on a “hot button” topic that interests you? These books and Web sites can help on specific issues:
• The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education, by David L. Brunsma, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. A fascinating exploration of the place of uniforms in our schools.
• The End of Homework, by Etta Kralovic and John Buell, Beacon Press, 2000. The authors argue that homework disrupts families, overburdens children and limits learning.
• How To Help Your Child With Homework, by Marguerite C. Radenich, Ph.D., and Jeanne Shay Schumm, Ph.D., Free Spirit, 1997. A book full of practical advice for parents.
• Inclusion: Schools for All Students, by J. David Smith, Wadsworth Publishing, 1997. A detailed description of the implementation of inclusion in U.S. schools.
On the Web
• Center for the Prevention of School Violence – www.ncdjjdp.org/cpsv/cpsv.htm – This enormous site offers advice and training to parents, students, teachers and principals.
• Education Commission of the States – www.ecs.org – Provides current statistics and information about education on a state-by-state basis.
• French Toast Uniforms – www.frenchtoast.com – Offers information and surveys related to the use of school uniforms.
• Homework Helper – www.refdesk.com/homework.html – Provides homework help for all grade levels.
• National Association for the Education of Young Children – www.naeyc.org – Promotes excellence in early childhood education and offers insights about kindergarten.
• National Center for Learning Disabilities – www.ncld.org – Works to raise awareness about learning disabilities and the rights of parents under federal law.
• National School Safety and Security Services – www.schoolsecurity.org – Covers many aspects of school safety, including several resources for parents.• U.S. Department of Education – www.ed.gov – Gives an overview of K-12 funding at the federal level.