There were many parts of President Trump’s inaugural address that drew attention, but his description of the state of education in our nation was among the most notable for parents, teachers and administrators: “[America has] an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
As a person who works closely with teachers locally, and who has spent the last five years working closely with teachers across the country—from both district and charter settings—I can tell you first hand that you will be hard pressed to find anyone working in a school today who agrees our public schools are “flush with cash.” This is simply not the case.
Ask any teacher what they would like to see in their school, and their answer often includes basic resources, such as paper and textbooks; technological tools, such as computers and educational programs; and supports for specific student groups, such as students with special needs and English-language learners. The truth is, most have a mile-long list of things they could use in their classrooms.
Directing Dollars to the Students Who Need It Most
That’s not to say that we should direct school funding dollars in any and all directions. The way we fund schools is deeply flawed, but it certainly is not because we allocate too many dollars to our students—it’s because we don’t direct dollars to the students who need them the most.
Funding is one of the best tools we have to ensure students have equitable opportunities to reach their full potential in our classrooms. Every student—no matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status or zip code—deserves access to strong academic supports and highly-qualified teachers to meet their individual needs. Yet, across the country, we have failed to use funding to ensure every student has the chance to succeed.
Take a look, for example, at what’s happening here in Boston. More than 20 percent of our children who come to school every day have had or are in the midst of traumatic experiences and there are about as many homeless students in our public schools as there are teachers.
Research shows that access to emotional and behavioral support services in the form of guidance counselors, school psychologists and nurses make a huge difference. Yet our students with the greatest need are left with limited or no access to these resources, as they repeatedly fall by the wayside amidst budgetary cuts.
Why We Needed ‘Supplement Not Supplant’
While our districts and unions have taken real steps to work for solutions, the number of guidance counselors and school psychologists in schools remains far below the recommended amount. The dollars are not there to allocate for these positions.
I wish I could tell you that help is on the way for our most vulnerable students, but unfortunately, school funding is likely to become even more inequitable in the years to come, as the U.S. Department of Education recently announced its decision to withdraw the “supplement, not supplant” proposal that would have required more dollars to be allocated to the students who most need it under the Every Student Succeeds Act. As a result, schools serving at-risk students will be at the mercy of already tight state budgets, and will have to do more with even less.
So, flush with cash? Hardly. Our students deserve an equitable, excellent education. Targeted resources (along with lots of hard work by dedicated educators) are needed to make this a reality for each child in every state.
I hope that President Trump and the soon-to-be-confirmed secretary of education will listen to teachers—the real experts who work with students day-in and day-out—so they understand the tough trade-offs with which public school educators and school and district leaders contend, and that they don’t make these choices any tougher.