Florida teacher: “Students like mine” will suffer most from budget cuts


By Amanda Litvinov

Ms. A goes to Washington

Megan Allen came to Washington with a story to tell. It’s the story of the gains the children who attend her high-needs elementary school have made, thanks in large part to the extra supports provided by federal funding for Title I and special education services and other programs.

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But it’s a story whose ending is yet unwritten. On February 21, fifth-grade teacher Megan Allen testified before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to explain how across-the-board sequester cuts set to go into effect one week from today could literally end dreams for students like hers at Shaw Elementary School in Tampa.

“My students live in poverty and have special needs that federal funding helps meet—for example, keeping class sizes manageable so teachers can provide individual attention and support,” said Allen in her testimony. “For my students, a low student-to-teacher ratio is a dream lifter and life changer—essential if they are to realize their full potential.”

Those students rely on Ms. A, as they call her, not only to get them up to speed academically, but to help connect them with the social supports the school offers—a lunch group for girls with low self-esteem, translators who help teachers communicate with families and school psychologists.

And whether they realize it or not, these students’ are depending on Ms. A to fight against the budget cuts that could take supports like these away.


Megan Allen talks about what school means to one of her students.


Right now, despite all of the challenges they face, Shaw students are winning county science fairs and earning top grades on the Florida report card. But that success is unsustainable without funding for the federal programs that make it possible. And that’s why educators like Allen are speaking out.

“The impact will be harshest on students like mine,” Allen told EducationVotes. “As educators we cannot sit back and let things be done to us and our students. We have to step forward and advocate for our kids, especially with the political climate the way it is and the impact it has on the students in our classrooms right now.”

 A mother’s legacy

Megan Allen never expected to end up a witness in a Congressional hearing testifying on behalf of students and educators. In fact, for many years she never even expected to be an educator.

“My mother was a science teacher, and being the teenager that I was, I would never even consider going into education,” said Allen. “We were two stubborn, red-headed women living in one house.”

So she went to college to study engineering, and ended up changing her major six times before graduating with a degree in international trade and Spanish. She had no shortage of ambition; it was finding her true passion that proved difficult.

Her deepest period of soul searching had yet to begin. She was in law school when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and given only a short time to live.

“I got the chance to interact with former students were coming to visit her, some of whom had her as their teacher 20 years before and still remembered my mom’s 8th-grade science class,” Allen recalled. “I received letters and cards from them and I had an awakening, this moment where I realized the lifelong impact beyond just academics–the impact that educators have on people and society.”

“I knew I wanted to teach. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else—it’s the best job in the world.”

Allen, who is now in her 9th year of teaching, has already earned National Board certification and was named the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year.

Ms. A’s mission: To learn and to teach

“One of the reasons I love to share stories about my students is because I learn so much from them,” said Allen. “Working in a high-poverty school, these kids are dealing with some issues that we as adults would struggle with, and they do it with a resilience that we can all learn from.”

Allen_quoteAbout 90 percent of the 600 students who attend Shaw Elementary qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. As Allen shared in her statement before the House committee, she has students who are afraid of the violence in their neighborhoods, some who go hungry over the weekend, and others who are victims of abuse. She has a girl who misses school every Thursday to visit her mother in jail, and two of her boys, who are not yet 12 years old, have arrest records.

But she knows that every single one of them has dreams, and she’s on a mission to help them hold on to those “beautiful goals.”

“I realize that as teachers, we might be the main people showing a child support and telling them that they are loved. I want them to know they are appreciated, so as they go out the door I say, “Thank you for giving learning your best today, be safe, and remember that I love you.”

Last year, many of the children responded in kind, but never Michael (not his real name). He was the child that other teachers came to warn Allen about, the one who talked during quiet time and stayed silent during discussions. He usually did the opposite of what was asked of him.

“There were days I had to dig down deep to keep showing and telling him how much he meant to me, but I found it and I meant it,” Allen said.

It took time, but Michael “morphed from being a child who was very angry at the world and felt unsuccessful at school to someone who was on sports teams and the school patrol. To see that transformation in your classroom is a beautiful thing,” Allen beamed.

On the last day of school, when Ms. A. began to tear up watching her students exit her classroom for the last time, it was Michael who stayed behind, “to make sure I was OK,” Allen remembers. “That was the day he said, ‘Thanks, Ms. A., have a good summer and remember that I love you.’”

What lawmakers don’t know can hurt us all

For Allen and educators across the country, “sequester” has become a very scary word.

In Hillsborough County, where Allen teaches, 142 schools stand to lose $3 million in Title I funding. The cuts would also slash $2 million for special education, meaning a cost equivalent to educating 1,500 students with disabilities will be shifted from the federal government to the state.


“When I think about losing more funding for education, I think about all the academic supports we’ll lose—the teachers’ aides, the smaller class sizes, the reading coaches and academic intervention specialists and counselors,” said Allen.

“Simply put, I think about the 36 kids sitting in my classroom.”

The national numbers are astounding, with looming cuts of more than $3 billion reducing or stopping services for more than 7.4 million of the nation’s most vulnerable students, including those struggling with poverty, language acquisition and a range of disabilities and mental health issues.

“Additional deep, arbitrary cuts to discretionary programs will be devastating to the programs and services that ordinary Americans depend on and inflict tremendous, irreversible harm on our nation’s 50 million students, particularly those with the greatest needs,” said Dennis Van Roekel, an Arizona math teacher and president of the National Education Association.

Lawmakers have a choice: To work together to find a balanced approach that will end the fiscal standoff in Washington, or watch millions of school children and working families suffer the consequences.

Megan Allen asked Congress to think about the millions of students just like hers across the country and stop the sequester. And she asks you to share your story about how further cuts will hurt your school community.

“Some say we cannot afford to keep spending as much on education. I say we cannot afford to spend a cent less,” Allen said as she concluded her testimony. “In fact, we should be spending more. We owe it to our youngest dreamers. Our learners. Economic recovery begins in our classrooms. Investing in education is investing in the future of America. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow—our living legacy.”


Reader Comments

  1. I’ve been watching with keen interest the results of Supply Side Economics since the 1990s when jobs left for Mexico to by-pass the high wage of the USA workforce. Then in 2001, when China ($1.36/hr. avg. wage) joined the WTO, even our jobs in Mexico left for China. In less than 20 years, we’ve lost 9 million jobs, 50,000 manufacturing plants closed their doors (used to be a kid who graduated from HS or even drop outs for that matter, could find a job in a factory and raise a family on their wage- NO MORE). Our midwest “Industrial Belt” has become the “Rust Belt.” our cities’ manufacturing facilities have been abandoned, and are in decay.
    Yet corporations, who are using the offshoring model, begun in the 60s, but perfected in board rooms across the USA by the time NAFTA was passed, are making record profits, $5 TRILLION in cash sitting in offshore accounts (paying taxes to America the Beautiful is for chumps!!!), our middle class is being decimated, unemployment is stubbornly stuck at around 8% (excluding those who’ve stopped looking for work), and under-employment is causing more and more middle class Americans to slip into poverty.
    Whenever somebody suggests that Supply Side Economics has been a disaster for the middle class as well as the USA, an implication that the gravy train for the top be brought into balance with provisions for middle class job opportunities, blood-curdling cries of CLASS WARFARE arise from the lackeys of the elite class within our media and political system to divert public opinion away from the imbalance.
    As the money runs out, you will see more and more villainization of those who’ve been displaced and introduced to joblessness in this depressed economy, a type of “blame the victim” propaganda cry from the right. I’m talking about those hard working citizens who want nothing more than a job so they can earn their keep and pay their bills, but have been lumped together with the “takers” when they enter the unemployment lines. An implicit suggestion that they just throw themselves on their sword and martyr themselves so the top can take more, more, more!
    The middle class, poor, and their children (especially in our cities) are being asked to pay for the greed perpetrated against them by the top. Any suggesting that the pendulum be nudged back into balance, is met with cries of outrage by the true “takers” who’ve seen ungodly gains in their wealth over the past 30 years. Disgusting!

  2. How can we afford Not to fund these programs? Would you rather support/fund education or support the prison system and build more prisons? Title I Programs often offer hope to students who have been unsuccessful in the “regular” classroom situations. The teachers of these programs often work with students in smaller classroom settings and with a variety of instructional techniques and programs. All of these things combined assist these students, for whom regular classroom settings/curriculum did not work, in being successful at school, in their communities and in life in general. Many students if unsuccessful at school, find other things to be successful at and many times end up in the prison system. Is it better to help them as children in a school setting or as adults in a prison setting?

  3. Oh, by the way, this article is worried about 142 school districts losing $3,000,000, Tony Bennett took that away from our school district (one HS, one MS and 4 ELM) in one year and gave all the money to charter schools. The school I teach at is nationally ranked by US Report.

  4. Teachers in Florida haven’t seen anything yet. With Tony Bennett at the helm, they are about to have a big crash. He was run out of Indiana by the voters and beaten by the only Democrat holding a major elected job in a state dominated by Republicans. That democrat got more votes than any elected official during that election only beaten by Mitt. He did more damage to Indiana education policies in 4 short years that will take decades to repair. Good luck with Tony, you’re going to need it!

  5. Our most precious resource, children, who cannot advocate for themselves, depend upon caring adults. In a perfect world all parents and neighbors would contribute an adequate share of knowledge, nurture, and finances to the education of all children, regardless of origin and need. The net of responsibility catches everyone at local, state, national, and international levels; no one group escapes, and most certainly not our leaders in Washington D.C.

  6. Please keep in mind that EVERYTHING you do affects our future. Whether you will be alive or not, it matters. Give teachers the respect they deserve and the students the education they need. End the big business and lobbyists agenda to make money. Your grandchildren will suffer. Wake up!

    1. As a retired teacher my heart cries for all these young teacher. The cuts make a huge impact on children and their future. A retired teacher from WI

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