"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, October 1, 2012

America's Priorities -- Children Last

I spent last weekend with a former (retired) Chicago Public Schools teacher and spouse. As expected, at several points during my visit the conversation turned to the situation in CPS and the recent teachers strike. It was interesting given my experience as a teacher in a much smaller district -- the 400,000 students in Chicago Public Schools compared to our 9500 students, about 2.4%...47% of my system's students are on free or reduced lunches, compared to about 86% in Chicago. Chicago spends an average of $7946 per pupil, my home district spends $9399.

All the schools in my district have an art program, a physical education program and a music program (sometimes only once or twice a week in the elementary schools, but at least it's there). Many Chicago Public Schools don't have any art, or music. Our schools have good facilities and playground space. Many CPS schools don't. Finally (and my friends are likely getting tired of hearing me harp on this) 160 CPS elementary schools don't have school libraries...in our district every school has a well stocked library. There are other things...support staff, comfortable buildings (ours are all air conditioned), sufficient materials. It's clear that many CPS schools are not well supported.

A similarity, on the other hand, is money...or more precisely the lack of money...and one thing I heard while visiting in Chicago was, "it's all very well and good to want these things, but where is the money going to come from? The city's broke."

Chicago is just one more place where there's "not enough money" for the basic education of children. The "investment in tomorrow" is not being supported. It's just not a high enough priority.

The teachers in Chicago understand that there are financial problems, however the financial problems are exacerbated by economic choices...
"Teachers recognize that the school system and the city are experiencing financial difficulties. However, policy choices have played a significant role in this reality. One cannot just simply blame the state of economy. At the school system level, CPS spends millions of dollars on standardized testing and closing schools instead of supporting them. The Office of New Schools, for example, had a budget of over $300 million last year. At the city level, millions of property tax dollars that would otherwise go to schools every year have been redirected away from the school system thanks to the TIF program. Instead, a lot of this money goes to corporations like Willis Tower, United Airlines, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. To make up for the budget shortfall, CPS must raise property taxes on those who do not live in a TIF. After about three decades of the TIF program, a total of at least $1 billion has probably been redirected away from the schools..." -- Understanding the Chicago Teacher Strike – A Quick Guide
In their program for improving schools, The Schools Chicago's Students Deserve, the Chicago Teachers Union makes the point that a lot of the city's money has gone to corporations and the wealthy with little to show as a return. Others have noted the same...and it's been going on for some time.
Originally TIFs weren't intended to build tax-exempt properties like schools: they were supposed to subsidize economic development in blighted communities with the goal of eventually increasing property tax revenue. But as the TIF program has expanded and evolved--the city's created more than 100 districts in the last ten years--Mayor Daley and the City Council have drawn on them to subsidize projects from upscale condos in trendy neighborhoods to Millennium Park to a rehab of of the lake-shore campus of tax-exempt Loyola University. -- The Schools Scam (6/22/06)
The new Chicago school budget strangles public education
Board spokespeople often claim that there is “no money”, but Mr. Cawley failed to point out that the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois are always throwing money at problems as long as the money sticks to the wealthy.
  • The Chicago Mercantile Exchange(CME) threw a tantrum and demanded a $77 million dollar state tax break. Poof! It appeared.
  • The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) wanted a 15 million dollar state tax break. Poof! It appeared.
  • Penny Pritzker of the Chicago Board of Education wanted $5.2 million dollars of Tax Increment Fund (TIF) money to build a new Hyatt Hotel. Poof! It appeared.
  • Now Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar, one of the largest employers in Illinois, is complaining about a tax increase and threatening to move the Caterpillar offices out of Peoria IL. Caterpillar made record profits of $4.5 billion 2011 and Oberhelman brought home $16.9 million.
The CTU's paper, The Schools Chicago's Students Deserve, identifies sources of money. They call for fair school funding, using tax money to support the students, ending corporate subsidies and loopholes (aka corporate welfare), and progressive taxation where everyone pays their share.
Fully Fund Education: A country and city that can afford to take care of its affluent citizens can afford to take care of those on the other end of the income scale. There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve.
The education of Indiana's children is a lower priority than enriching testing and test-prep companies. We spend more than $46 million on testing programs. The testing and test-prep companies are getting rich, while money is being diverted from the places where it's needed. The same is happening in Illinois. The same is happening all over the country.

The legacy of keeping the education of today's children as a low priority will be increased poverty and income inequality which will lead to increased crime and increased civil unrest. We can't afford not to educate all of our children. We need to make our future a higher priority.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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