School Funding—High Stakes Conversation

Have you noticed that we live in a society that compartmentalizes many aspects of our lives? I think this time of year is a perfect example: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday—it seems like there are catchy themes for every day between now and Christmas! At a time when it’s trendy to jump from one ice bucket challenge to another, educators have to seize opportunities to focus dialogue on school funding.

It’s definitely a relief that there’s a deal in the works for the inflation lawsuit, but I think too many people are breathing a sigh of relief instead of bearing down for the work ahead. First off, we have to get Proposition 123 passed on May 17. Second, there is still a major gap between school funding in Arizona compared to other states. Schools are really, really broke. There were 28 bonds and overrides on the ballot in the last election. School funding has become a local decision based on community bonds/overrides. This perpetuates inequities in lower income communities where the culture of poverty, Word Gap, and Digital Divide are very real phenomena.

At a time when people are distracted by new causes every time they log into Facebook, it’s important for educators to tell their stories about how school funding shortfalls affect their schools, students, colleagues, resources, and careers. Therefore, I thought I would share some things I’m seeing right now in my own professional context. None of these observations are meant to be criticism—I’m actually quite impressed by the ongoing creativity of school districts that continue to operate in this financial drought. Here are some of the ways school funding deficits are affecting me personally. Maybe you will add your own in the comments below:

  • Great teachers have left my school. We used to have one of the highest scoring kindergarten teams in the district. One teacher found out she would make $8000 more in a neighboring district, and they all left. Districts have to offer competitive salaries to new hires, but often don’t have the money to provide adequate raises for continuing staff. Could these salary issues affect stability in schools across the state?
  • Students in my district no longer have access to Microsoft Word. Instead, they use a less expensive word processing software that does not have similar features. Could this skill gap have long-term effects when students seek employment in the future?
  • To save money on paper this year, we have a paper rationing system on our campus: 2 reams per teacher per week. Though this saves money and encourages conservation, the unintended consequences are staggering. First, I have to remember and take paper with me every time I walk to the copy room. Some teachers leave paper in their boxes, but then find that their paper is “stolen” by other teachers who forget to bring their own. Second, our copy machines have been broken daily all year long because of the extra wear as teachers take paper in and out of the machine. I have seen the stress on teachers’ faces as they anxiously fight with the copy machine during their prep period. I know these things sound insignificant, but daily stress adds up. Could these environmental conditions in schools contribute to attrition in the field?
  • My campus is conducting major fundraisers to purchase supplies this year. Each month, our school has a “Dress Down” day where kids can donate a dollar to wear non-uniform clothes. On the same day, we also host a Kona Ice truck. In our Title I community, these optional monthly activities could cost up to $6 per child. It’s a creative way to keep the school running, but could these decisions in schools today create dissent among voters who later fail to pass bonds and overrides? Further, these fundraisers create a burden for all staff on campus. Teachers have to collect money, issue receipts to every student, and turn in the funds. Administrators have to carefully supervise the Kona Ice event. Do these burdens accumulate and contribute to teacher burn out?
  • Each year I’ve seen reductions for our New Teacher Induction program (which I wrote about here). We once had 30 hours to support new special education teachers during the school year. Now we have only 8 hours. Research shows that mentoring programs support and retain new teachers; yet the program is shrinking. How can districts hire, train, and retain quality teachers with less support each year?
  • Yes, I am going to write about toilet paper. If you are looking for the thinnest toilet paper on the planet, come and visit my classroom! You will feel like Edward Scissorhands when you try to unroll a few pieces to take care of business. In a classroom with potty-training preschoolers, this probably affects us more than other kids. Does something like toilet paper matter? Could these conditions decrease student independence in the bathroom?
  • To save on money, our district installed controllers on heating/cooling equipment. The units come on right before school and shut off right after school. In September, I spent 90 minutes dripping in sweat during an after school meeting with a parent and two kids. Now that it’s winter, the heat comes on right before school, and we have to wear jackets in the classroom because it’s too cold in the morning. Do these things affect student learning and teacher concentration?
  • Last school year, my self-insured school district raised the benefits cost to employees by $700/annually. Many other school districts have done the same. Someone said it was because teachers were getting sick too often. Could any of these factors above be creating sickness and stress for educators in the field?

Overall, this is an important time for dialogue about school funding. This is a high stakes conversation. If you have questions about the funding lawsuit, this is a great resource webpage. What stories do you have to share about funding in your professional context?


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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