by Colleen Flaherty
As the new school year begins, the effects of sequestration are starting to sink in, and it’s hurting students, educators and parents alike.
In California, Katharine Saavedra worries about her daughter, a high school special education student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Budget cuts are affecting all aspects of her daughter’s schooling, even transportation.
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“My daughter has been more than two hours late arriving at school on numerous occasions,” said Saavedra.
In her district, the regular school bus drivers are now forced to take furlough days. This means the school is forced to hire independent contractors at several times the cost. The drivers are not as familiar with the routes and are often late, while draining money from a school district that is already bleeding from drastic budget cuts.
“When one is wondering where their child’s bus is as first period ticks away, this is maddening. When one is wondering where there child is two hours late getting home from school, it causes terror,” said Saavedra.
“Overly long bus rides are nightmares for autistic children. Two hours or more after school during which they cannot eat, use a restroom or simply understand what is taking so long. Often my daughter resists getting on the bus because she fears a long delay. Many students with special needs are unable to overcome the trauma of travel delays and will not use the bus.”
This is just a small drop in the bucket of the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts and its impact on the nation’s students and schools. Though the cuts were enacted in March of this year, many of the estimated $3 billion cut from federal education funding didn’t affect school district budgets until the beginning of the current school year.
Anita Getzler has been an education support professional in Nevada for 16 years and said she began this year “with a heavy heart” as she sees the toll budget cuts have on the neediest students.
“It is not unusual for me to have classes of 24 students, eight of whom are English Language Learners, six who have behavior disorders, seven who have serious health issues, three who need speech language support and two who might be gifted,” said Getzler.
As a school librarian, Getzler provides direct instruction to 500 students, check-out services and staff development with no support staff.
When there is no lack of research stating the importance of literacy and the school library in student achievement, it pains me to have to tell my students I cannot help them with their questions because I am trying to do so many tasks at the same time and cannot give them the attention they deserve. Our youngest students need the support of caring, well-trained professionals to guide them, and budget cuts have stripped staffing to such low levels that we are being ineffective.
Due to the federal cuts, tens of thousands of education jobs have been cut, resulting in larger classes, programs lost and services for students in need eliminated. Elsie Joe was a reading interventionist in a New Mexico school for grades K-5.
“I taught computer classes to the whole school, mainly targeting computerized reading intervention. Things worked out well as I included circle time where I actually taught phonics, spelling and language arts before facilitating computer time. I reviewed assigned stories and reading skills and monitored their computer work,” said Joe.
“Instead of renewing my contract, my then-principal told me my position was eliminated as were all non-tenured jobs. Now how is this furthering students’ education?”
Sandra Mann also works in a school district where students are hurting because of staff cuts. In the Oregon district where she is a substitute teacher, around 30 educators have been cut just this year.
“There were already 35-36 students in some elementary classrooms, with 40-50 in some middle and high school classrooms,” said Mann. “What will be looking at now?”
As it stands, if Congress doesn’t come together to reverse these cuts, the impact will only get worse.
As services for her students are being cut or done away with altogether, Mann has a message for Congress: “We need to start funding essential services and do the right thing!”