Ignorance is a Prison Without Walls, Bondage Without Chains


When we look at any country where the people live as victims, where corrupt governments dominate their populations, there also is ignorance.  People without education, illiterate and uninformed, living lives of poverty and bondage.  We need only to look at some African nations or eastern nations such as Bangladesh to understand this is true.  A strong education system is a hallmark of nations with the highest living standards.  Nations with the most opportunities and with the brightest futures, such as Sweden, Norway, etc., seem to be somewhat immune to the global financial crisis.

The recent financial crisis, which in my mind is a total manipulated situation, has hit America in many ways, but no more so than crippling our education system.  If we cannot be outraged by having our savings ripped away or the values of our homes hit by 30-40%, or seeing our incomes contract, surely we can become outraged at what is happening to our system of education.  In 2010, only 75% of our high school children will graduate!  We are going backwards at a tremendous rate.

In 1986 the US was ranked no 1 in the world for secondary education.  By 2006 we were ninth. By November of last year The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development places the United States 18th among the 36 nations examined, USA Today reported.

Headed to the top of the heap is South Korea where 93 percent of high school students graduate on time compared with the United States where 75 percent receive their diplomas.  The seemingly downward trend of U.S. education worries economists. “The United States has rested on its laurels way too long,”  said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “Other countries have increasingly caught up and surpassed the United States.”

March 5, 2010 -As many as ten thousand students, parents, school faculty and union members took to the streets of San Francisco yesterday as part of a coordinated day of action to protest cuts to education. Dubbed “The Strike and Day of Action to Defend Public Education,” the largely peaceful statewide rallies were held to protest severe cuts to education resulting in thousands of teacher layoffs, class and course terminations, higher student fees and increased class sizes. Demonstrators used picket signs, bullhorns, drums and sang slogans to get their collective message across: “We’re mad as hell and we’re not taking it anymore.” Facing a $20 billion State budget shortfall, public education in California is being decimated by severe cuts impacting all levels of education in many districts and school systems, including San Francisco K-12 schools, CCSF and SFSU.

Teachers, many now vacuuming their own classrooms, have been told to do away with space heaters and office refrigerators because they consume expensive electricity. Even the school year is being shortened as districts across the nation are making hard choices amid a worsening recession as they deal with budget woes.

“If school districts think it’s bad now, it’s likely to get worse in the next couple of years,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president of programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, who paints a grim portrait of the economy’s influence on education. He noted that as local revenues from property taxes continue to plummet, many districts likely will lose even more funding as foreclosures mount with increasing job losses. Even as some hope that the economic stimulus will bring some relief, he said, children are the ones who ultimately lose as education bears a big hit from the downturn.

The truth of this is that this crisis has taken the focus away from educational improvements and raising achievement and put the focus on simply battening down the hatches and trying to make it through.

In Florida’s Broward County, the school board, facing $160 million in budget cuts, this week debated killing several middle and high school sports programs, based on participation rates. In adjoining Dade County, two mothers outraged over state budget cuts went on a seven-day hunger strike, camping out across from Ronald Reagan Doral High School in January to protest that school system’s loss of music and art programs and curbs on student elective courses.

Pontiac, Mich., school district employees could all face layoffs as early as April. The struggling city must react to shrinking enrollment – from 20,000 to about 7,000 – and loss of state funding along with a citywide financial emergency declared by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, amidst a $12 million deficit.

In Kansas, districts are pitching in to help cut budget shortfalls by instituting hiring freezes, limiting travel, charging for all-day kindergarten programs and monitoring energy use from computers and lights while adjusting school thermostats.  Kansas City is closing nearly half of all of its schools.

In Kentucky and Florida, school parent-teacher groups have considered pitching in more money to allow the schools to keep teacher aides in classrooms and to purchase equipment such as new computers. As money problems rise, districts across the nation have increasingly relied on these parent groups for more support. One principal in the beleaguered Detroit school district drew national attention after she called on parents to donate light bulbs and toilet paper to get them through the school year.

In Ohio, students from the Richmond Heights district may be the first in their state to eliminate all sports – even the money-making football and basketball – as they work against a more than quarter-million-dollar deficit. They join districts in Arizona and elsewhere that have considered eliminating sports as a quick way to shave money in a tight economy. The Richmond Heights educators already have eliminated the bands. They are considering limiting bus routes, picking up only students through the eighth grade who live farther than two miles from school.

California schools, caught in a massive state budget mess, may cut their school year by five days. In Oregon, the school year could be cut by nearly two weeks. The California move would save the state an estimated $1.1 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has criticized the cuts, which prompted some outraged parents to point out that he sends his children to private schools.

A School Nutrition Association survey of 130 school nutrition directors from 38 states found that 79 percent of districts showed a rise in free lunches served. The number of students who paid full price for school lunches fell by 48 percent, the association said, noting that the uptick in demand reflected the increasingly dire economic problems facing U.S. families.

Illinois’ governor wants to raise state income taxes by 1 percent to continue funding schools and prevent the layoffs of thousands of teachers. Hawaii, President Barack Obama’s home state, has whacked 17 days from the school year and says it’s not done with educational cost-cutting.

From Maine to Wisconsin, Florida to California, school districts across the country are taking drastic measures to deal with school budget cuts made severe by the recession and its aftermath. Msnbc.com asked readers how their school district is coping, and one clear lesson emerged — cuts in education make no one happy.

Heather Baker, of Wetumpka, Ala., says her 12-year-old daughter’s middle school is in a county that is prorationing — cutting programs or jobs when revenues fall short of expectations — for the third year in a row. Every week is a new fund-raiser and funding is so low that the teachers are paying for all supplies out-of-pocket. Parents are also responsible for sending supplies for the classroom. This is a public school!” she wrote. “There’s rarely any toilet paper in the bathrooms, nor are they provided soap in the restrooms. Instead they are instructed to NOT wash their hands and to ONLY use a squirt of antibacterial hand sanitizer.”

Worst is yet to come
And things are likely get worse in the coming school year. Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, said the first round of federal stimulus money that kept many school jobs afloat is drying up at a time when state legislatures are preparing budgets for next year and school districts have to issue layoff notices. Without more federal money such as that contained in the jobs-creation bill just passed by the House, districts are proceeding with worst-case scenarios based on massive teacher and staff layoffs, and in some cases, school closures.

Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, agreed that the most dire cuts are likely to be felt when the new school year begins next fall. “There is no silver lining, at least in the next 18 months,” she said. “School districts are looking at four-day work weeks, cutting back on non-core subjects like music and art and PE, looking to raise class size. Those are the kinds of things boards are looking at to balance their budgets,” Anderson added. The hard decisions take their toll on teachers, administrators, students and parents alike. These events are affecting EVERY school district in the country.  Here is some anecdotal information from all over the country.

Waiting in line
We live in Greenville, S.C. Recently Greenville County has mentioned a furlough for teachers. Teachers that are currently overworked and underpaid. As for school year 2010-2011, instead of purchasing new buses and hiring new bus drivers for our ever-expanding county, our county board has changed the middle school and high school (only) start and end times. I will now have to wait after school in the middle school car line 40 minutes with my elementary school child in the car. — Elizabeth Dickson, Piedmont, S.C.

Hiring freeze
I’m frustrated because I am a school district employee. Our wages are frozen, there is a hiring freeze in place, and our health insurance costs jumped 15 percent and cover less. That being said, our district spends money like it is going out of style. We spent $700,000 on a new track at the high school that is used for two-track meets a year. We are spending $50,000 on a media computer lab but have no teacher or class that will be using it. We created (even though there is a hiring freeze) a teaching job so the football coach could draw teacher pay. I’m willing to bet other school districts have similar stories. What we need is proper management, not additional funding. — Anonymous, Laramie, Wyo.

Explain that to an 8-year-old
Fort Wayne Community Schools is $15 million short. Our son’s elementary school is one of two buildings being closed in the system. While I see the need to save money, I also know the emotional impact. It’s been hard to explain why it’s happening to a second-grader and what it means for the friends that he’s made over the past few years. That will also mean that teachers, who don’t make a lot of money to begin with, are going to be let go. That also is tough to explain to an 8-year-old. — Jeremy Lawrence, Fort Wayne, Ind.


Shorter school year
Our school, USD 429, Troy, KS, started this school year by cutting nearly 15 days off the school year. Instead of starting around Aug. 12, classes started Sept. 2. This eliminated the costs associated with air conditioning and buses for those days. “Now we are being told we must cut more, which may require consolidation with at least three other schools. Elementary kids already may ride the bus for over an hour, one way. Consolidation could give these kids two-hour rides, each way. — Anonymous, Troy, Kan.

Arizona parents and teachers are spending more out of their own pockets to help keep public schools running smoothly as schools hike fees and scrimp on basic supplies to meet tighter budgets. Fees for band, athletics and other activities are going up at many schools. The amount of paper, markers, tissues, crayons and paper towels that schools supply for classes is falling, forcing teachers or parents to make up the difference. Yet schools view the cost-shifting as necessary. Districts already are raising class sizes and slicing payrolls. Among school districts making such moves:
• The Paradise Valley Unified District is nearly doubling parking fees to $180 a year, up from $100, and athletic fees jumped to $200 per sport, up $50 over last year. Middle-school athletic fees also rose. Teachers and staff are taking a 2.6 percent pay cut, and each school must cut 16.7 percent in operating expenses, including supplies.
• Activity fees will remain the same at the Tempe Union High School District, but teacher pay is frozen and schools will make 6.3 percent cuts in operating budgets.
• Deer Valley Unified’s school-supply budgets were cut by 5 percent.
• Mesa Unified is cutting classroom supplies by 15 percent. The district doesn’t charge athletic fees, and other student fees, such as parking, will not rise.
• The Glendale Union High School District is considering charging its first athletic fees in nearly 20 years. It cut classroom supplies by 20 percent.
• Each Peoria Unified school must cut its operating budget, which includes supplies, by 10 percent. Many schools also want more volunteer time from parents, and parent-teacher groups are trying new ways to raise funds. Coyote Trail Elementary School in Tucson faced a supplies crunch last spring with months left in the semester.

Teacher commitment

Teachers spend an average of $477 a year for supplies that schools can’t afford, according to a 2006 survey by the National Education Association. They can deduct up to $250 of those expenses from their federal taxable income.  People who go into the profession know this personal subsidy is part of the job, but they also know it’s not required in many other professions. The amounts teachers pay for supplies often reflect not only a shortage of funding by the district or state; they reflect teachers’ commitment to reach for higher-quality instruction – better materials, teaching aids, even books for their kids.

In Oregon, Twenty-five school days, 380 jobs. That’s the stark picture of what upcoming state funding reductions could mean for parents, teachers and students in Portland Public Schools. The district probably won’t solve its 2009-10 budget problems solely through layoffs or a shortened school year. But Wednesday night, district leaders told school board members that no amount of reserves or central office cuts will protect the classroom.

“We approached the budget initially with the thought that we are weathering a recession, making reductions that we’re going to build back,” said Superintendent Carole Smith. “If we’re in a recession at the $5.4 billion level, we’re faced with some very different decisions.”  Smith built her budget in March assuming Oregon schools would receive $6.4 billion over the next two years. That budget included $14.5 million in cuts for the Portland district.

Now, state leaders say, Oregon schools are more likely to receive between $5.4 billion and $5.9 billion. That means Portland, the state’s largest school district, could face an additional $18 million to $38 million shortfall. Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, co-chairwoman of the legislative Joint Ways and Means Committee, recorded a video message for Smith and school board members, telling them to expect a statewide budget of about $5.9 billion. In Portland, a $5.9 billion statewide budget would equal the loss of about 25 school days or 380 jobs. A $5.4 billion statewide budget would equal about 40 days, 598 jobs or a reduction in the operating budget by about 12 percent.

These are real life facts spread across the entire country.  This is nothing short of perverse.  Even in the last great depression, our system of education continued to grow and expand. In any financial crisis, we collectively have to make choices.  Education MUST be that first choice, period. On a federal level, it is criminal to be spending what we are on defense or banking bailouts when we are watching our school systems implode.  On the state levels, we should have educational budgets in a “finance first” basis when balancing the budgets.  Again, this is an issue for us as voters being truly informed and demanding the appropriate response from legislators.  This is NOT about shrinking tax revenues as they would have us believe.  It is about priorities period.

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Author: redhawk500

International business consultant, author, blogger, and student of life. After 35 years in business, trying to wake the world to a new reality. One of prosperity, abundance, and most importantly equal opportunity. it's time to redistribute wealth and power.

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