This is not an article about how to stop gun violence in schools.
Like most of America, my perspective has been forever changed by the horrific events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The president, members of Congress, governors and state legislators have all weighed in on a range of school safety proposals offered in recent weeks.
Plenty of reasons have been offered for why various policies might not work, but there has been a virtual absence of one common obstacle: cost.
“Lack of funds” is typically the beginning and end for most discussions about why something can’t be done in our schools. But in this moment, funding seems to be readily available. The president has even suggested that we could pay teachers more to carry guns. A White House official backed him up, stating, “Do we really think that’s too much to pay for school safety?”
There is no cost too high to protect our children. I am thrilled to hear a public official share this position. However, you will find very few teachers who have stories to share about moments in their careers when they were told money is no object.
To paraphrase an oft-repeated mantra, budgets reveal what we really value. It’s true. A budget is a clear statement of priorities. And while there is no priority higher than the safety of a child, it is instructive to compare the resources our policymakers are—and are not—willing to fund in our schools.
At the same time that proposals to pay teachers a stipend for carrying a gun are being considered, many states are phasing out stipends for teachers that earn advanced certification.
We’re Not Even Funding the Things Teachers Are Supposed to Do
In my state of South Carolina, the legislature is set to eliminate a nearly 20-year-old program that provides stipends for teachers that earn National Board Certification. This decision comes despite data showing the stipend helps retain good South Carolina teachers, as well as a wide body of research showing the positive impact of National Board certified teachers on student learning.
Policymakers in many states are also willing to fund training for teachers that want to carry guns. However, many of these same policymakers are quick to point out that there isn’t enough money available in our budgets to pay for teacher training in areas like instructional strategies, educational equity and new technology.
Perhaps the most glaring example is the Trump administration’s continued proposal to eliminate Title II funding, which is often relied on by states and districts to provide professional development and teacher leadership.
Some policymakers are ready to invest funds in “hardened schools” with enhanced safety features. While I support investments in this area, I also can’t help but think of all the times that sufficient funds haven’t been available to address basic facility needs like leaky roofs or adequate heating systems.
Taken as a whole, the spending proposals from policymakers to secure schools shows we are putting a high priority on making our schools as safe as possible, and I am glad to see this level of focus. As an educator, I want to see us take the same approach to other crises that exist in our schools.
It is a crisis that 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but no guidance counselor.
It is a crisis in my home state that the school year opened with 550 teaching vacancies that districts were unable to fill.
It is a crisis that, according to a recent study by The Education Trust, there are real and persistent funding inequities in our schools, especially for the districts serving the highest populations of students of color and low-income students.
We should react to these situations with the same type of urgency we are showing for school safety measures.
We can’t fix everything in a world of finite budgets, but we can show the same level of commitment to finding solutions. These problems are not things that can wait to be addressed in future budget cycles when “funds are available” with a promise to do better next time. Our students don’t get a next time. Finding funding solutions tomorrow for the problems of today will always be one day too late.
I want to vote for the policymaker who, in a discussion about finding the funding to ensure our students have what they need, proclaims just as loudly, “Do we really think that is too much to pay? Of course not.” And then, they act.
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