by Colleen Flaherty
Larry Wiener is a home teacher and intervention specialist in California. For over ten years, he has helped students succeed who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks.
Fred (not his real name) was one of many successes.
“Fred was an eighth grader from another country who loved basketball and his Xbox and had just discovered girls. School was pretty much on the back burner. He was getting D’s. I worked closely with Fred to help him use his considerable ability and competitive drive to excel in school. Last time I checked he was a near straight-A student in high school,” said Wiener.
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“Schools are full of Fred-types, student with potential, but who need extra support to reach that potential. I contend that by providing that support we make an investment that pays off in a more educated workforce.”
The individual attention and extra support that Wiener provides is one of many examples of the essential need for adequate support staff in public schools. Counselors, nurses, librarians, paraprofessionals and other support staff are in danger if education suffers more budget cuts.
If Congress doesn’t pass a budget deal before the end of the year, 8 percent across-the board cuts go into effect Jan. 2 Federal education spending overall would decrease by $5 billion dollars and over 78,000 potential job losses, and as Weiner knows, support staff is usually the first to go.
“Services like the one I provide are easily cut during lean times,” said Weiner.
Weiner is not alone. Debra Sands was a lead counselor at a California middle school for 20 years before she lost her job due to budget cuts. In a district where over 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the counseling office has been cut from four counselors to only one.
“With the decaying economy, the increasing stress parents experience trying to stay afloat financially and the general angst adolescents feel as they transition from child to teen, it is hard to believe trained counselors are no longer valued,” said Sands. “These draconian cuts are happening when students need support the most.”
“The simple fact of the matter is that we are neglecting the needs of our children.”
The absence of adequate support is hurting students and teachers alike. Terri Durgan has been a Kansas public school teacher for 25 years. Durgan has seen the size of his classes grow and services shrink.
“There are more students in each classroom, many of whom have special learning needs, social or emotional needs, poverty and family strain such as neglect with fewer resources to support learning needs,” said Durgan. “Putting more pressure and demands on one teacher in this classroom will not necessarily raise competency to the best level no matter how highly qualified.”
“It is the guidance counselor, social worker, nurse, special education teacher, paraprofessionals, and school psychologists who give expertise and support to students and families so the kids are able to learn.”
Roy Elia is an Education Support Professional in special education at Central Middle School in Oregon. His staff is asked to do more every year, with many colleagues having to purchase school supplies with their own money.
“I am keenly aware of the roles that my colleagues and I play on a daily basis,” said Elia. “This, or any time, is not the time for our schools to reduce staff.”
Educators across the country are addressing Congress to reach a budget deal that avoids massive education cuts and directs funding to where it will help students most. Over 13,000 people have signed the Kids Not Cuts Pledge.
“I’ve said this in the past, and I’ll say it again – education is something we can all rally around. It does not know a partisan divide. A lot of great things can be achieved if all of us can come together and take the steps necessary to make education the best it can be,” said Elia.