Who has and who hasn’t? It’s not easy to tell.
It’s no surprise to the average American that there is a significant gap between the haves and have-nots in our country. Because of financial hardships it’s politically risky, bordering on personally foolish, to ask for people to approve higher taxes for schools. However, the quality of a school district reflects on the quality of a community. If the community supports its schools, property values reflect that support. Far too often, however, we look at the schools in our communities and assume they are better off than they really are.
As the economy suffers, so too does the public school system. Districts all over the country are evaluating and reevaluating programs for their quality and importance. Many valuable programs face cuts and as programs do, so do the teachers involved in those programs. As states try to balance their budgets, school funding is cut, and California is just one example. Michigan, where I live, and Indiana, where I work, suffer their own financial problems, yet meanwhile Michigan’s Governor Granholm and Indiana’s Governor Daniels are pushing for full day kindergarten across their respective states. With the newest tax plan in Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reports that local governments and school districts now face “a reduction of revenue and cuts in services.” With limited financial resources, how do such programs get paid for, and where should a district focus its attention to best serve those who have and those who have not?
The cover article of the March 2008 neatoday — “Mind the Gap” — addresses the technological gap present in society today. The article illustrates the clear difference in haves and have-nots. The opening paragraph of the article describes a family in Virginia with three children who each have their own computer in their respective bedrooms. The article contrasts the Virginian family with a young man in Mississippi who has no computer access at home and must drive 40 miles every day to research colleges and apply for student loans at a community center.
The article describes what communities and individuals are doing across the country to help narrow this tech gap, and I applaud the efforts of those like Andrew Rasiej, “who advises members of Congress on the use of the Internet in politics and policy, [and] is an advocate for universal Internet access.” However, where does supporting universal Internet access put other programs that actually educate children? While great and useful and an aid to students who would otherwise be left behind technologically, does universal Internet come at the expense of programs in early elementary education that focus on literacy and math skills? Is it the responsibility of schools to address this technology gap?
The school district where I teach is, admittedly, technologically wealthy. The grants that have been written to provide teachers and students with the smart board technology, computers in every classroom, on-line attendance and report cards, and Writing Center could fill a room. Because of our technology, we are assumed — by those inside and outside our corporation — to be a wealthy school district. However, our socio-economic demographics have changed over the past decade, and this trend of diversification will only continue. We prepare ourselves to teach and reach an increasingly socio-economically diverse population while continuing to provide all students with the diverse academic offerings we have always provided. I think my district realizes that technology is not always the answer to reaching all students. The gap in education should be bridged earlier, and it is the achievement gap, not the technology gap where we wish to focus our attention. That is why we are offering all day kindergarten at more elementary schools next, and our goal is to phase in all day everywhere by 2010.
The offerings of all day kindergarten for next year were decided based on the greatest need for early intervention as measured by the schools’ free and reduced lunch percentages. One school identified as a participant in next year’s all day program faced percentages of nearly 40 to 50 percent free and reduced lunch. That’s around half of the student population and their families attending that school qualifying for free and reduced lunch. We may have a hard time meeting our 2010 goal with the new property tax law in Indiana, but there are still things a voter can do to protect his community and his schools.
It’s nearly May, and that means for a lot of you – not just Hoosiers — that you’ll have an election dealing with bond issues and millage requests, and you may even find yourself voting for school board members who value the programs important to you. When you find yourself at the polls, wondering if you should vote for or against the raise in taxes or millage that will provide for your school, don’t assume that just because the school has written the grants necessary to provide bells and whistles for the children that they are a rich district. Consider all the information available to you, do your research and decide what’s important, for the future of your community counts on it.