Mrs. DeVos, we should focus on the kids

Courtesy photo, tulsaworld.com

Teachers all over Oklahoma are staging walkouts. Many people think it is just about the money the teachers get, and with Oklahoma public school teachers not having received any form of a raise since 2008, that would be a probable guess. But it’s not all about the teachers’ salaries. It’s about the kids. 

Following the tour of a middle school last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos discussed the Oklahoma teacher strike by saying, “I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”

What DeVos hasn’t evaluated is that the lack of funding for Oklahoma schools has put teachers and their students in a collection of unsuitable situations. 

With the lack of funds from the government, 98 out of Oklahoma’s 513 school districts (19 percent) have been forced to shift to four day school weeks, said Bellwether Education Partners.

This can lead to a variety of issues for both teachers and families. With the shortness of each week, many teachers can feel as if they cannot get enough material into the school day, which could lead to a drop in test scores among students.

With the loss of a day in the school week, many fear that students of low income families will not be able to eat food on the day they normally would eat at school. According to Eileen Bradshaw, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, “It’s hard enough for kids that are missing two days of free and reduced lunch, but now we are talking about a third day. And many families can’t factor in those extra meals with their already stretched budgets.” 

The downsides of four day school weeks just scratch the surface of the effects that come from the lack of government funding in Oklahoma. 

A study by the Oklahoma State School Board Association lists that two of the main changes taking place because of school funding cuts are “reductions or eliminations of summer programs, student field trips, athletics, fine arts and advanced student coursework, [and] delayed textbook purchases.”

These are all detrimental to the education of young students. 

Extracurricular activities play a huge role in making successful, well- rounded students. Along with many theatre and art departments in Oklahoma schools, which are intended to foster creativity and individuality that are being shut down, many students are now being charged to play athletics for their school because the institution has no money to pay for a team. These activities that are designed to promote healthy competition and exercise are being shut down because many of these students who come from low income families cannot afford the extra expense. 

Additionally, in the classroom, students are being handed textbooks that are falling apart at the seams because there has been a long delay for textbook purchases due to the lack of funding from the government. Many teachers have been forced to take the price of school supplies into their own hands. According to adoptaclassroom.com, during the 2015-16 school year, teachers spent on average $600 out of their own pocket on school supplies. This number has only continued to grow in the past few years. These teachers pay this cost out of love and care for their students.

One Oklahoma teacher was forced to take the school supplies issue in her own hands when she turned to panhandling for money for her students.

 Third grade teacher Teresa Danks stood on a street corner with a sign reading “Teacher needs school supplies! Anything helps. Thank you.” Danks said that she collected $55 in just six minutes, which is double the amount of money that she makes per hour while teaching. 

Most people will say that not making much as a teacher just “comes with the territory.” But when is this going to stop? 

The situation of the schools in Oklahoma is only one example of what is going on in public schools in America. America, when are we going to start caring about our children enough to put them first? When are we going to stop focusing on building a multibillion dollar wall and start focusing on the children who are the future of this country?

So, yes, Mrs. DeVos, we should be focusing on the kids. But that time will only truly come when the government can stop seeing education as part of an agenda and start seeing the students behind it who are left to suffer.

This story first appeared in the April 12, 2018 issue of The Vantage.

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