We all believe that children are our future. We all feel like education is important. And yet our schools are terribly underfunded.
I’m not in the business of getting into a back-and-forth about school funding formulas, Common Core standards, tax breaks for corporations, school bonds, bickering legislators and all that jazz. All worthy issues, but, just not gonna get into it here.
All I know is that when we were in suburban Chicago, Logan’s kindergarten class had 18 students and four iPads. There was extra reading support, ESL support and other awesome services.
Then we came to Portland. One of my neighbors warned me of the local elementary school, saying the quality was sub-par because of the big class sizes and outdated technology. Naturally, I freaked. No one wants to send their kid to a “bad school.”
I put my journalism cap on (well, actually I don’t think it ever comes off, maybe I just straightened it a bit.) We headed over to the school for a self-guided summer tour. I ran into the principal and got a chance to grill him for a good 30 minutes about the school: Its goals, challenges, what he’d like to see from parents, the school’s racial and economic background and how the differences between the haves and havenots play out in daily school life.
Two big things about the school shocked me. One, Logan’s class has 26 kids and everyone was celebrating that as a good thing, saying it was a “small” class. It’s all a matter of perspective. Oregon has the nation’s third-largest average class size.
The second shocker was the old computer lab. It’s filled with old desktop computers that appear to be circa 2002. Did I mention Intel is like, 5 miles up the street? Anyway, on Back to School Night, I approached a woman I thought was with the school’s booster club and we had a meeting of the minds on school funding. Turns out she was school district board member. We’re now buds.
I quickly learned that my direct approach can be startling to the kind ol’ folks here in the Pacific Northwest. Especially when you’re talking about education. At a neighborhood block party a few months ago, I was trying to understand the education system from a teacher’s standpoint, so asked some of my neighbors who teach at a different school why the funding was so poor and what they thought would help fix the problems.
I got quite the chilly reception, then a complete freeze out. Got it. Lesson learned.
So I got involved with the booster club, have helped raise money and am just trying to get a grasp of how things operate here.
A couple days ago, the aforementioned board member sent me an invite to an education town hall on school funding that featured five state legislators: Sen. Bruce Starr and Reps. Jeff Barker, John Davis, Joe Gallegos and Ben Unger. I scrambled for a sitter (Hubby was working late) and went.
I swear to you, I had all the intention of just listening to what folks had to say. I even sat on the far side of the room so I could watch both the legislators and the crowd. After an hour and a half, I had learned a lot about what various people thought we should do and opinions on failures past and present. But then I started to twitch, especially with the thank yous for coming out and the thank yous for having us.
Huffing to myself I think, I am paying a babysitter a pretty penny, I want to come away with something meaty. I once-again straightened up that journalism cap and formulated my question. Being how politicians like to speechify, I also decide to give them a time limit.
When I raised my hand to speak, the district’s superintendent, who was the moderator, called on me.
“I have a question that I’d like for each of you to answer in less than one minute. I’m new here from Chicago, so I’m not as nice as as you folks and I will cut you off.” (Earlier the superintendent said each person would be limited to a three minute intro and he let them yammer on and on. And on.)
“What bill that relates to school funding has the best chance of being passed?” I asked. “To help you save on your time, you can just give me the bill number because I’m writing it down. What are its biggest challenges and how can we help, other than to call your local legislator?”
The room fell silent.
So I go, “Who wants to go first?”
There was some slight stammering, but they found their footing. Most of the politicians pointed to a bill to be floated by Rep. Gallegos, which from my understanding is to review how the state is implementing its various assessments such as standardized testing and benchmarks related to Common Core. According to the audience and legislators, that process is rife with error and expensive inefficiency. Others on the panel also talked about increasing funding of the Career and Technical Education program.
Nothing earth-shattering, I know and I was chomping at the bit to ask follow-ups. But these measures are more steps in the much-needed right direction.
According to an Education Week analysis, Oregon’s public schools are ranked 42 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Clearly, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.