The Kids Are NOT All Right

By Linda K. Armacost, Ed.D

Secretary, La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club Board

Before his fall from grace, Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards spoke of two Americas, one rich and one poor. America’s economic inequality has gone from a gap to a chasm in the intervening years. To understand the consequences of income inequality, we can look at public education.

If I told you about a school district where 40% of the junior high students receive free lunch, can’t afford textbooks, and has passed only two school bond measures since 1989, you might think I was talking about an inner-city school district with people of color and English as a second language. Nope, the school I am referring to is 90% white and in rural America. What happens to the kids in poor, rural communities should trouble us all.

My brother-in-law, Terry, made a surprise visit last weekend and what he told us was absolutely frightening. Terry is a seventh grade teacher in a small Ohio town south of Cincinnati along the Ohio River. Terry left a job in industry, went to college and earned his BA and a Master’s in Education.  Terry loves teaching and his students have consistently scored above state norms. After teaching for 15 years, Terry said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. It has become nearly impossible to be an effective teacher today.” He went on to explain that his students don’t care about learning and their parents and guardians don’t either. Teacher/parent conference slots used to be filled, but last year only three slots were taken out of 55 students. Terry may retire early from the profession he loves.

What happened? Long-term poverty. When the manufacturing plants left town, the ripple effect of those job losses spread throughout the county. Small towns long the Ohio River, once dotted with nightclubs, restaurants, and boat rentals, have vanished. Jobs are scarce and wages are low. 40% of Terry’s students receive free lunches because they are at or below the poverty level. May students live with a grandparent or another relative because mom and/or dad are in jail, or are victims of the rampant opioid crisis. Some parents have simply left town.

Poor people don’t have good schools because most educational districts depend on property taxes for funding. Terry’s town has only passed two schools bond since 1989. Terry is the ONLY teacher who still uses textbooks — which he buys! Teachers use YouTube instead of textbooks. Terry’s room is the ONLY room with maps! Kids come to his class having never seen or read a map, “You cannot teach Social Studies without a map!” he says.

Terry’s decision is heartbreaking for so many reasons. He is a natural, gifted and creative teacher. When he taught science, his students made hovercrafts out of wooden discs (I rode one). As a Social Studies teacher, his students created costumes fitting the time and countries they were studying, such as the Roman Empire. Terry and his wife, Betty, have a property filled with ancient artifacts and students are invited to their home to explore the creek bed for samples of ancient ferns and small fish. To lose someone like Terry is not only a shame, it is shameful and if the President and Secretary of Education’s 2019 Education Budget passes things will only get worse:

Today, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released their proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year. The Trump administration’s budget proposal for this year makes strikingly similar drastic cuts to the administration’s fiscal year 2018 proposal, which represented the most devastating funding cuts to the U.S. Department of Education since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. On the heels of that widely criticized proposal, the Trump administration has doubled down this year with a $7.1 billion cut to the Department of Education’s funding—a 10.5 percent decrease from 2017 levels. And while an unusual addendum—released on the same day as the original proposal—seems to restore $3.3 billion to the education budget, Trump and DeVos have made their priorities clear: Starve public schools to fund private school schemes that benefit the wealthy.

There may be hope on the horizon now that Democrats are in control of the House of Representatives, however, WE citizens must fight for education. When I ran for the school board eons ago, my slogan was “an investment in education today will pay huge dividends in the future.” Another favorite slogan is “if you think education is costly, try ignorance!”

For more check out this link (thanks to Gene Carpentier).

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