Posted In: Educator Voices, Kids Not Cuts, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota

Kids Not Cuts: Don’t let the opportunity gap widen

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by Colleen Flaherty

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Brea Wiblemo is a Minnesota educator where a tight budget is already affecting her students.

“Our school currently has a building need. Classrooms are put into closets and storage rooms and hallways,” said Wiblemo.

In order to get a much-needed new building, the community would need to pass a building bond to fund it. However, Wiblemo teaches in a lower-income community where support and funding are hard to come by. She said this is just one unique challenge communities like hers face.

“Cuts to education would put more burdens on tax payers at the local level to pick up the slack. I worry that poorer communities like mine would worsen while wealthier communities would manage. This would deepen the achievement gap in our nation,” said Wiblemo.

In the United States, there is a growing gap in opportunity between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. A recent Stanford University study found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s.

If Congress doesn’t pass a budget deal by January, 8 percent, across-the-board cuts go into effect with $5 billion cut from education. As Wiblemo said, many underprivileged schools don’t receive adequate community support. If federal funding is substantially cut, this could mean even fewer opportunities for low-income students.

Diane Mentzer has been an educator in Maryland for 30 years. She previously taught in an affluent school where she said parents were involved and students came to school prepared to learn. She decided to move to teaching in a school where many of her students are living “in some of the worst conditions imaginable.”

“I made the move to make a real difference in the lives of my students,” said Mentzer. “I am lucky to be in a school with small class sizes, Title I funds for technology and support for families as well as the students. However, I cannot physically work any harder than I am now.”

Mentzer said the importance of this funding cannot be overstated. The students and their families receive resources through the school that they may not have access to anywhere else.

“If support for families were to leave, the students would have less food, clothing and even housing. Students cannot learn when they are hungry, cold, worried, tired or stressed. Family life affects the whole family, and school is often the only safe, loving place for the students.”

Federal programs like Title I – education funding given to schools with a larger percentage of low-income students – are in severe danger of being cut if the education budget isn’t protected. Without it, schools like Mentzer’s won’t have access to many basic resources.

“Without funds to purchase books, fund libraries, purchase technology, feed students and employee enough teachers, the entire future will be affected. I do not want to live in a country where students were denied what they needed,” said Mentzer.

Jaclyn Abrams has been an elementary school educator for nine years in Massachusetts in a lower-income area. Every year, her kids are falling further behind on testing.

“The number one reason we are at a disadvantage when compared against the wealthier towns is the early lives of our children. Due to their own financial circumstances, these children come to school without the early literacy experiences they desperately need.”

In her school, many students are turned away from early literary programs because there aren’t enough teachers and too many students.

“I am really worried for schools like mine if funding gets drastically cut. It’s so important to consider the lives of the children this impacts.”

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