Letter from Sen. Vinehout: Education: People are pricelessA woman at the farmers market shared her story.
By: Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Pierce County Herald
A woman at the farmers market shared her story. She taught special students. They often came from poor areas, had troubled parents and frequently could not speak fluent English. Without help they were destined to face a troubled life.
She had much success changing students’ lives. She spent hours helping them read and write; encouraging the youngsters. But recently her school district announced severe layoffs for the coming year. How would the layoffs affect her and her students?
Next year class sizes were expected to be 45 to 48. Students would spend most of their day in front of a computer. The school administration touted this as ‘education reform’ and ‘individualized instruction.’
But parents and teachers know it is individualized learning – with a human teacher – that best helps troubled students.
This story is from a school district in Wisconsin. And it may be coming to a school near you.
A recent audit from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction showed more than 2,300 staff and teaching positions were cut in this school year; a more than 50% increase over last year.
Eliminated positions are widespread. Seventy-four percent of schools cut staff in this school year. Seventy-three percent cut teachers.
The audit showed actual school data that mirrors an earlier survey of school superintendents. The cuts fell disproportionably on business and technical education, librarians, reading and science teachers and special education.
With deep funding cuts and heavy restrictions on raising local money, school superintendents turned to the largest part of their budget – staff.
Local superintendents tell me they have struggled with almost twenty years of tight budgets. Some schools survived by referendums. Others cut programs, slashed staff and increased class sizes.
Some schools survived using federal dollars they saved and other schools found new health insurance plans that saved money. But these ways to reduce spending won’t be available next school year.
In an earlier survey of most of the state’s superintendents, two-thirds reported that next year’s cuts would be as bad or worse. The federal dollars that helped many superintendents weather the budget storm dried up and the savings from increased employee contributions to pensions and health insurance were already booked in next year’s budget.
In some cases, employees are already paying most of the cost of health care.
Many school staff told me they are now paying a $4,000 deductible on their health insurance or more. A teacher recently told me she delayed going to the doctor despite serious symptoms because she didn’t have the money.
In the end it is the children that suffer most. And it is all of us who pay down road when children with special needs are not given the one-on-one personal support they need to become highly functioning adults.
Education is an investment for all of us. Education pulls children out of poverty, inspires and motivates. For many of us, the school is the center of our community.
People are fundamental to education. A motivating teacher changed my life, many times. Any parent who sat with a youngster and helped them with homework has seen the effect one-on-one human interaction has on the developing student.
A computer is a tool to assist students and teachers in learning. But it is grave mistake to replace the human teacher with a machine.
I remember the name of the teachers four and half decades ago that changed my life. My guess is that you do too. Replacing those caring, stimulating and motivating souls with a computer will not result in an enlightened generation to come.