Education: We are Poor, but Proud
Education is the moral and economic issue of our time. Should a student’s zip code, town wealth or family situation dictate the opportunities they have to access quality education? As the state moves forward in addressing the achievement gap and implementing the common core (new standards for skills and knowledge acquisition by grade level) they must consider the resources necessary to deliver that knowledge district by district. Why do New Britain students sit in classrooms of 25-30 students while their counterparts in other communities have 20 students per class? Why does the state have a funding formula that is not fully funded? New Britain only receives 74 percent of our education cost sharing grant. Why is it that year after year the Board of Education is in a position of attempting to maintain the status quo? Our school district services a student body that is 75 percent free and reduced lunch, 77 percent minority, 15 percent require bilingual services and 16 percent require special education services. 44 percent of our students go home to households where English is not the primary language. I have been told that change and improvement does not require additional resources – reallocate what you have is the mantra. In New Britain at the middle school level we have reduced our guidance department, eliminated foreign language classes and eliminated consumer sciences. In our elementary schools we have eliminated paraprofessionals in our kindergarten classrooms, reduced the number of resource staff to assist teachers and for the most part, have one administrator per building. District wide we have cut our custodial, maintenance and secretarial staff. Imagine a school of 600 students with one secretary and the Principal. The Board of Education has gone to our employee groups three years in a row seeking and obtaining concessions to mitigate flat funding. This year, in addition to reducing our teaching staff by 50 positions, we reduced our district wide supply account from one million dollars to three hundred thousand dollars. That account must be spread over a 10 month period in support of 10,000 + students. In reallocating those dollars our effective spending came down to copy paper and toilet paper. It has been suggested that a longer school year, a longer school day and wraparound services will improve student outcomes….dah…now show me the money!
The moral question has to be are all students entitled to the same level of quality state wide? If we hold all students and systems accountable for the same outcomes – how can we not provide equity in the offerings? As a society do we demand justice and equality for all children or is it ok to look the other way when the challenges are not immediate for us? This neglect of urban education and proper funding levels to mitigate the preparation gap, the experience gap, the opportunity gap and the resource gap of a community is not economically prudent and it will impact us all. The future American workforce will come from urban communities. The majority of American children will be educated in traditional public schools. As a nation we cannot talk about job creation without talking about education. We cannot bemoan our fallen status in the world economy without taking a hard look at our domestic policies – specifically, education. Who is benefitting from the status quo?
The federal government and now the state is moving towards competitive grants in support of education. This sets up a system of winners and losers. This competition comes down to the skill of the grant writer not the needs of the community.
Over the last four years, I have had the difficult and emotional task of delivering two messages about the New Britain public school system and the children we serve. We are poor, but proud. We are underfunded and under resourced, yet our students do achieve. They add value.
The New Britain school community has survived on sheer determination, persistency and an overwhelming belief in our students. We challenge and support our kids as they go beyond their comfort zone, overcome obstacles and break ceilings to create floors – new foundations for future generations of New Britain students! We are character strong.
(Beloin-Saavedra will write a monthly column for the New Britain City Journal about the educational system.)