Sunday, February 4, 2018

Open Letter to the Legislature: RE: School Funding


Dear Legislators,

On the precipice of what is the most disastrous educational budget in my memory, you, as our legislature, have the ability to make some bold decisions that will impact the future of our Commonwealth.  As our legislators, you need to place education as the priority of our Commonwealth.  You want to cure the opioid epidemic?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want more skilled trades and high paying jobs?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want less crowded prisons?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want our Commonwealth to be the forefront of the United States?  Have the courage to find a way to make education the number one priority of your body.

The Governor has made it clear education is not a priority.

The gap between the rich and poor is correlated directly to the gap between test scores of affluent schools and schools beset with poverty.  I challenge you to look at school rankings as far back as the NCLB inspired testing craze, and you will see that the affluent schools of the state stay on the top; and the high need schools of the state stay on the bottom.  It is unethical to fault the educators or students at these schools for their ‘low’ performance.  You made us take these awful tests, whose relevance is specious at best to their future success, put our students through a decade of them; and knowing the results, you refuse to fund us to ‘fix’ the scores.  These scores were then used to lambast us for our lack of progress.  I refuse to believe that it is the fault of our students or our educators.  The fault lives in your body.  SEEK has essentially not moved since 2008.  While we teach more students, with higher needs, our funding is 15% less than it was in 2008. Couple this with the growing mental health crisis among our students, and we have a great deal of pressing issues that require more funding.   Fund us to address the needs of our students, and we will.

We need bold and courageous leadership that will create funding models based off of our students’ needs, which will mean our less affluent buildings will require significantly more funding to address the needs of their students.  KERA is a prime example of bold, courageous leadership from our legislative body.  We must move past the idea that all schools are funded equal.  It doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked for decades.  It’s time to admit it and move on.  This may be an unpopular belief, but I give it to you from the boots on the ground eyes of a Principal doing the work about which you debate. The truth of the matter is we don’t have anywhere near enough to do the job tasked to us.  We are charged with educating the youth of the Commonwealth, on budgets that are nowhere near effective for our most needy students.  You have the opportunity to change the funding structure of our schools.  You can have the bold vision of an educated Commonwealth, where all students have a robust funding model that supports their needs.

Instead, you want us to do it with even less.

We all worried you would tear our pension to pieces, and we became vocal, and it seems now that at least for a moment, you listened.  While you patted yourselves on the back for “having the courage to not kick the can” we rolled our eyes and worried you would take what we have faithfully paid for.  I still don’t believe that you will honor the promise of the pension, but all the most recent pension debacle taught me was that the legislature listens when we become as loud as we can be.  You need to hear this loud and clear: we are not funded to answer the challenges before us, and our profession is not compensated to the level where we keep highly effective staff.  If you want an educated Commonwealth,  you’re going to have to not only fund our schools effectively, but you’re going to have to fund our professionals sufficiently.  I will use myself as an example.  I have three degrees, significant experience, and work approximately 3,300 hours a year for my school.  When I hear our Governor lambasting my profession for the $100,000 plus salaries, I ask you, what do you think a professional in my position should be compensated?  I run an organization with over 2,100 students, and 240 staff.  As your body is often fond of the private sector, what is a correlating position with my responsibility and experience?  The same rationale applies to our teachers.  Imagine the state of the Commonwealth if our teachers were not afraid for their retirement, and are compensated for their experience and ability commensurate with other professions.  We should aspire for teachers to make strong salaries for their work.  Stop lambasting us for making a living, and fund us to be effective, and we will produce the graduates in the Commonwealth prepared and ready for life.

Instead, you want us to do it with even less.

There are plenty of wise superintendents, principals, teachers, and knowledgeable professionals in our field.  In fact, 40 of them just filed to run for your seats.  That itself should give you pause.  One of those 40 teaches in my building.  He should be teaching, not running for office because he believes that you don’t value the needs of our students.  It should cause reflection on your part as to what you have done, and what you intend to do for the future of our Commonwealth.  It would be wise of your body to stop and ask us exactly what we need to do our job effectively.  We will tell you, and we will offer solutions to what we believe our schools and communities need to be successful.  The current path that your body travels does not honor education, nor seek meaningful input in the future of education in our Commonwealth.  Instead, it cuts, belittles, and marginalizes the needs of our students, educators, and their communities.  The most recent budget proposed guts our schools, and spits in the faces of the students of the Commonwealth.

You have an opportunity for bold and courageous leadership for the future of our Commonwealth.  Do not fail to rise to the occasion.

V/R

Robert Fulk

Principal

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