Oregon public schools are in serious crisis mode. I know this isn’t a unique situation. Public education has been undermined by political policy across the nation for years now. (Why does a certain segment of those in power want the children of those who can’t or won’t send their kids to private school to be gravely undereducated? That’s a can of worms for another post, yes? We should talk about that one day, because… Yeah. We’re in trouble here.)
In April we learned that Kiddo’s school was facing devastating staff cuts–cuts that would do away with what is supposed to be the school’s core focus. We parents did some frantic fundraising, and Mayor Sam Adams and the City Council did some awesome emergency budget magic and those positions were saved for next year. Great. But what about the following year? And why should parents have to raise massive amounts of money to merely maintain the status quo of a PUBLIC school? The original amount needed to hold on to our teachers, before the mayor stepped in, was $177k. Ultimately, we had to raise $42k and did. But we should be raising funds to make the schools remarkable, not just to hold on to barely adequate.
Last night I went to a town hall meeting at the Kiddo’s school. State Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Representative Jules Bailey were there to speak with us and I was unexpectedly impressed by them, but came away even more depressed. The way school funding is structured in Oregon is a huge part of what is dragging the system down. Schools aren’t funded through the local government; they’re funded through the state, the money coming out of a general fund. There is no fence around the money for education. Schools are directly competing with jails for funds in Oregon. Right now, it looks like the jails are winning.
Representative Bailey told us about a meeting he had with the VP of Pyrus Energy, a major international wind turbine company that moved to Oregon. That VP said they’d moved here because there is so much support for green energy. He said that outweighed the number one barrier keeping other large businesses out of Oregon: the schools. They can hire the best and brightest from anywhere in the world, he said (the implication being that the best and brightest aren’t already in Oregon, because our schools aren’t producing at that level), but the best and brightest aren’t willing to put their children into the schools here. Rep. Bailey said that and a collective moan went up like he’d punched us all in the guts. I felt like crying. What had we done, leaving New York for Portland? Have we totally screwed our kids over by coming here?
There are solutions we can work toward on the political front, legislation that can be attempted, and I’ll be talking about that some on the blog as November approaches. I’m going to do what I can politically, but it’s going to take time to change the way things are done in Oregon. We need to change the state constitution to do it. (Would we have moved here if we’d known how bad things are? No. I’m glad we didn’t know. We’ll make do.)
Ballot measures and canvassing and all that… great. But what do we do for our kids RIGHT NOW? We, me and Billy…what do we do for the kids in this house?
Homeschooling is not for us. Kiddo is a social creature who thrives at school, and Girlie seems to be the same. I am the opposite and am a better parent for having that time when they’re at school to focus on my own work. But we can’t rely on the public schools to give our kids the same kind of education I got in public school in New Jersey in the 70s and 80s. Billy went to private school in Manhattan and called his teachers by their first names and sang a lot of Woodie Guthrie songs. We can’t afford private schools, and even if we could I still believe in the IDEA of public education.
Our house is full of books and Kiddo has his own library card that sees frequent use. We read to them all the time and Kiddo is often found reading to himself and to his sister. We do math problems and brain-teaser type stuff for fun with Kiddo. We’ve done some science experiments in the past, but not on a regular basis. We’re going to need to get more deliberate about it, though. I’m starting to research homeschooling methods to supplement what they’ll get in school. I don’t know what this will ultimately look like. I’ve just started thinking about it.
Do we do something very structured, like Monday afternoons are for math and Wednesday afternoons are for science and on Sunday mornings we work on writing? Or do we keep it more free form, like we do it now, but plan ahead with it and be more mindful to do it regularly? I don’t know. Are any of you doing this? Supplementing public-school education at home in a planned, deliberate way?
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Get on the mailing lists of the elected officials who spoke at last night’s town hall. They are 100% on our side:
Senator Rosenbaum: firstname.lastname@example.org
Representative Bailey: email@example.com