When school districts face budget cuts, teachers, students and school programs are the usually the ones who take the hit. As money becomes scarce and school boards grapple with diminishing funds, tough decisions have to be made. For some schools, the cuts may result in little or no pay increases for teachers, fewer opportunities for teacher professional development, a reduction in classroom materials & supplies, larger student/teacher ratios, and a decline in student enrichment activities. While these are not choices most schools want to make, what other options do they have when the money simply isn’t there?
Teachers feel the brunt of educational budget cuts in many ways. In a field where in good times about 20% of teachers leave the profession in the first three years, budget cuts mean less incentive for educators to continue teaching. As the cost of living increases, but teacher salaries remain the same, what is the motivation for continuing to teach? Many teachers leave the profession for positions in other fields where they can earn more money and have greater opportunity for upward advancement. Healthcare rates are continually on the rise, and when a small raise is not enough to offset an increase in health insurance premiums, the net effect results in a decrease in take-home pay. Many school districts including MCPS pay for at least part of teachers’ benefits. The amount that school districts are able to pay typically suffers under budget cuts. This too, in effect, is like a pay cut for teachers.
Less school funding can also result in fewer teacher professional development opportunities. While this might not seem like a big deal to some, the truth is that teachers, just like any professional, can become stagnant without continual self-improvement. The field of education is changing and new theories and teaching methods can make all the difference in the world for new, struggling, and even experienced teachers. However, with budget cuts, these activities are typically some of the first to go.
Dwindling funds also impact the already shrinking discretionary monies that teachers receive at the beginning of the year to pay for classroom supplies & materials including photocopying paper, classroom manipulatives and other learning tools. As budget cuts deepen, the pressure to purchase these necessary items is felt in the teachers’ or even the parents’ pocketbooks, and when teachers’ salaries barely cover their cost of living, teachers are less willing and less able to subsidize school funds for classroom materials & supplies.
To put it simply, budget cuts that negatively impact teachers in turn negatively impact their students.
But the effect on students does not just stop there. Some budget cuts can result in larger classes. Research has shown that students learn better in smaller classes. When there is overcrowding, there is a greater likelihood of disruptions. Furthermore, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks in large-numbered classes and not get the extra help they need and deserve to succeed. Another casualty of larger classes is that teachers are unable to do as many cooperative learning and other more complex activities. They are just too difficult to manage with very large groups.
With school districts struggling to keep their noses above choppy budget waters and voters howling about taxes, should schools really be funding athletic programs, the Future Business Leaders of America, the concert band, and the Lego Robotics Club? As it turns out, maybe they should! True, there is not a straight line between the chess club and an Ivy League education, but a growing body of research says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming a responsible citizen. Students who have a significant involvement in an extracurricular activity have a capacity for focus, self-discipline and time management that is sometimes lacking in students solely focused on their GPA. Extracurricular and enrichment activities introduce children to new ideas and interests, teach them to study more efficiently, develop their social skills, and expose them to caring adults.
NOW is the time for action! Let your voice be heard! There is a Middlesex County Board of Supervisors public budget hearing on Thursday, April 21st at 7pm in the Board Room on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse, 865 General Puller Highway, Saluda, VA.