We are all concerned about our schools and our rising school taxes. Most districts are facing a decline in state funding of 10 percent or more, which can be $3.6 million in real dollars. That's a lot of money, and we all wonder where it will come from.
Teachers are concerned about larger classes, less funding for teaching materials and salaries, and lower educational standards. Parents are concerned about less funding for the things that keep kids interested in school, such as music and art classes and sports and other extracurricular activities. Taxpayers are concerned about an ever-increasing burden that is already difficult to bear. Kids face crowded conditions, increased bullying and less attention from teachers.
It's a difficult situation for all, without an easy answer. Many school districts across the country are in the same pickle, and some have come up with a few creative solutions that could be applied here.
The school district in Newburgh, N.Y., has hired an energy efficiency consultant to show faculty and students how to conserve resources and save money. Simple measures -- such as turning off lights in empty classrooms, lowering the heat after hours and reducing paper waste -- can more than pay the consultant's salary and save school resources over the long term. Engaging the student population in the school's efforts to conserve teaches children an important lesson to take back to the home and community.
Batavia, N.Y., schools have found methods for pooling resources and sharing specialized staff and equipment. This sharing cuts down on individual school districts' costs and helps keep learning standards high.
In Fairfax County, Va., the school board is asking parents to pay fees for tests, such as the SAT. It also is planning to charge $50 per student participating in high-school sports. The most ingenious suggestion was to raise class size by half a student. You have to wonder where they put the other half!
Texas schools find themselves with a decreasing tax base (as property values plummet) and an increasing student population. Instead of building more schools, the districts are encouraging home schooling, by providing an online curriculum, free computers and Internet, and teachers with online class sizes of 500.
Other states also encourage home schooling by offering home-schooled children the use of the school for certain classes that parents may not be able to provide at home. For example, a high-school science lab course would be easier to pay for than to re-create at home. This piecemeal approach to education also brings in additional revenues from home-schoolers already paying school taxes.
California high-school students will soon be working from free digital textbooks online rather than from the expensive hardcover textbooks at school districts' expense.
Perhaps the best approach to solving the school budget crunch is the one right under our nose and likeliest to be missed. Why not have the children come up with the solution? One of the biggest complaints about schools is that they don't prepare children for the "real world." Here's our chance; let's give the kids a real-world scenario and see what they come up with.
Thomas Kersten of The National Council of Professors of Educational Administration has come up with a helpful module that could be applied to any classroom. It's available for free at http://cnx.org/content/m14281/latest.
We are quick to give our children the latest in interactive online video games; how about we give them a quality education in life?
Shawn Dell Joyce's weekly column, "Sustainable Living," can be found at creators.com.