Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Word on State Funding and Education

Gov. Rendell has signed what Capitol Ideas is referring to as the Frankenbudget, which will fund most state worker paychecks, corrections, and assorted other things, but not education.

I had originally planned a long, heated rant on this but that has deteriorated into general disappointment. One of my great frustrations in life is that my political activities tend to be completely separate from my civic activities and child-centered activities. The people I see at political events are never or seldom at the other events I go to. And so, the legislature is unlikely to be aware of the large army of parents (mostly mothers) who keep much of the public education infrastructure going. Our elected officials are mostly male and while the bar is set extraordinarily low for fathers (they should be breathing, but, eh, if you position them right, it's optional) in groups like PTAs, there are very few men involved.

For the past five years I've volunteered for an hour a week in the local elementary school, filling a job because the paid staff person's hours don't cover the school day. Other parents fill in other hours of the week for that and many other jobs within the schools. Moms fund many of the basics that schools used to be able to buy themselves, maps, Weekly Reader, and so on. We provide the labor for a lot of school projects.

And we aren't stupid. One year, when there were school board elections, some of the incumbents came to a PTA meeting in October, saying they liked to visit with all the schools' parent groups and this just happened to be our month. No one could remember anyone school board members ever being there before and they were called on this politely but in no uncertain terms. A handful of the stay at home moms are lawyers, taking a few years out of the full time workforce. Think about that, lawyers with time on their hands and a vested interested in the local schools.

Generally these women are well-read and can tell you who their elected officials are, but do not attend political events. They vote. Their overriding passion in their children. They are linked through the mommy network and other informal connections, as well as parent group listservs, etc. The schools have all of our emails.

And the state legislature is stepping in some really deep doodoo, if it hasn't already. The schools haven't been funded and one expected payment has already been missed. That's throwing a rock at a hornet's nest. Miss another payment? At some point the day school is supposed to start will arrive. If the schools aren't open, if classes are larger than usual, if the art and music programs are gone, if the libraries are closed, if anything, ANYTHING, is not as the Moms expect it to be, the state legislature will be treated to something similar to the Wrath of God.

Picture enraged mother bears coming your way. Party won't matter, voting record won't matter, time in office won't matter. Any effort that any particular legislator has put resolving the budget mess won't matter. The Moms won't care. The collective state house and senate will be lumped together into one big target. The Moms are mostly unaware of what is happening but unless the schools are funded, like tomorrow, they will be. The Eye of Morder will swing over to Harrisburg and the results won't be pretty.

I'm posting this as a public service, because, as previously mentioned, elected officials don't see the Moms often. The Moms don't go to political fundraisers. Elected officials don't go to the spring carnival or the fall book fair or coordinate the coupon collection. The two groups just don't meet. But the Moms are there. The legislature can mess up most things and the Moms won't take notice. But don't mess with school funding. Seriously. Really. Don't mess with the Moms.


ACM said...

I take the opposite view. That is, I think that they are "ommitting" the education funding from their discussions so that they can look at one number for the "budget" and then deal separately with education, an issue so widely valued that nobody would dare vote against it. I don't know how it all plays out strategically, but I don't think that any of the games derive from the legislators' lack of understanding about the value of education; quite the converse, it's a hostage of very high value to both sides. w00t? :(

AboveAvgJane said...

No, this is serious. The state missed the July payment on school funding (see To be ready to go on the first day of school teachers need to be in their classrooms, textbooks on the shelf, science and other activity kits ready to go. Some subjects use workbooks that students fill in and cannot be re-used from year to year. Playground aides and other aides who work with special needs kids have to be hired and trained.

These things have to be paid for. They should on not only on order but arriving now. Also consider that some school employees work all year around. Where is their paycheck coming from? Junior highs and high schools are preparing schedules -- the people doing that need to be paid. Schools that issue ids do that early in the year -- those supplies and the equipment need to be on hand.

Coming up with a budget a week or two before school starts will make the first few weeks or month not only chaotic but in some areas useless. Chemistry class will be pretty boring with no equipment and no chemicals.

If schools can't open on time they will have to shorten holiday breaks or go later in the summer.

The legislature has had since Feb. to get this fixed. They haven't. If it were that important to them it would be done by now.

There will already be implications and they are likely to affect my household in very intrinsic ways. The hostages are my family and every other family in PA with school age children.

It's shameful.