School's in for the summer. Marana students, teachers and staff are in their second full week of classes. Amphitheater got going last week, and other school doors are opening across the Northwest and greater Tucson.
Funding for Arizona schools, public and charter alike, has been much discussed these last eight months. The Arizona Legislature, faced with a scary budget, cut funds in January for the current fiscal year. That is a most unusual, desperate measure, and it sent a wave of shock into education.
Then, as 2009-'10 budget "consideration" – it'd be a stretch to call it "talks," because it was largely invisible – wound through the winter and spring, supporters of public K-12 education became very agitated. And why not. They feared deeper cuts. Required reduction-in-force announcements were issued to teachers in April. Parents were upset, and angry, and they got themselves organized and spoke up.
The fiscal year began July 1, yet a budget remained unfinished as of last week. Schools are running on the money they expect to have through the year. That may not hold up.
Still, as the Republicans say often, the "final" cuts to K-12 funding were not as "draconian" as portrayed. Most RIF'd teachers got their jobs back, albeit with less pay. In the Marana Unified School District, as an example, 26 of 30 RIF'd teachers were called back. MUSD has mandated unpaid "furloughs" – four days for administrators, two days for "exempt" staff – to save $226,671. There is pain for those people, of course, but it was expected to have been much worse.
Now school's in session, and the talk about money must – must – take a back seat to the task at hand, educating our young people. And, it must be said, money is less important than family support, discipline and encouragement for children. Study after study shows as much; students from homes where education is valued perform better than those who do not.
There are so many ways to support our kids in school. They may be obvious, but they deserve repetition.
Feed them breakfast. It really is the most important meal of the day. It's inexpensive. It fuels their brains and bodies so they can learn. Breakfast – any meal – is also a bonding time. It's a few minutes to talk about the day, what's ahead, to hear eagerness and excitement as well as consternation and fear, and to encourage.
A good lunch helps, too. Money for a school-purchased lunch is a boost. Don't forget the great lunch your mom used to pack, and maybe do the same for your child.
Get the kids to run around a little bit, in school or after school. Energy runs through their bodies, and when it's burned, and they are calm, they can focus. As America wrestles with this mammoth called "health care reform," the biggest single health reform our nation needs is to lose some weight, eat right and eat less. Proper eating and exercise regimens are lifelong gifts to our children.
Get to know the kids' teachers. Teachers care. They're smart. They see things we do not. Two generations back, teachers went unchallenged as guiding authority figures. Today, teachers get far more blame when things go wrong. That's not right. Teachers are never the enemies.
Read with those kids, every night, if even for a few minutes. If they're older, talk with them about their school day, about current events, about subjects they're studying. Make sure homework is done and assignments completed, without excuses, before the TV or the video game are turned on.
The trend in modern America is toward entitlement, the belief that somehow, we are owed, by parents or families or schools or government. We would better serve our children by teaching them this – nobody owes you anything, you are not entitled, and the way to make a good life is to work for it, to earn it, to rely upon yourself, and to make the most of your God-given potential. Kids, it's not about your parents, not about your teachers, not about your principals nor your peers. It's about you. This great country gives you the chance to make something of yourself. You are terrifically fortunate to have the opportunity.
Someday, we hope, Arizona might solve its public school funding quagmire. Our kids can't wait for that day. Let's help them make the most of what we have, right now.