Now that one school year is over and we are preparing for the next, June is a month of reflection for educators and parents on how to do better next school year. It is hard enough for students to learn at school in today's world. You throw in overcrowding, teacher to student ratios, poverty affecting too many students and lack of funding for supplies, and it becomes almost impossible for the average student to get ahead.
The New York Daily News reported that in New York City, 6,313 classes ( 200 more than last year) were overcrowded, based on the teacher's union contract which sets 34 kids as the limit in high schools and 25 in kindergarten. In these classrooms, kids were sitting on the floors or standing, the whole period. It is tough to imagine how children can function in these overcrowded situations, let alone how can teachers concentrate and keep the kids interested? How can these kids learn when they are sitting on top of each other?
Add, on top of this, 16 million children in the USA (22% of all children) live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $23,550 a year (which is $65 a day) for a family of four, according to the National Center of Children in Poverty. These children are far more likely to have limited access to sufficient food (known as food insecurity). And with Congress cutting out $8.6 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP) earlier this year, these kids just got a little bit hungrier. The states where the most kids go hungry include New Mexico at 29.2%, Mississippi at 28.7%, Arizona at 28.2% and Georgia and Nevada both at 28.1%. How can these kids learn when they go to school hungry?
Now look at the 1.2 million children in the USA who are homeless. Forty-one states saw a rise in homelessness among school-aged children. According to the American Institutes for Research, homeless children have four times as many respiratory infections, twice as many ear infections, five times more gastrointestinal problems and four times more likely to have asthma. And when at school, they have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children. How can these kids learn when they have so many personal problems?
Poverty and poor performance go hand in hand in school. DoSomething.org reports that children living in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism or leave school all together because they are more likely to have to work or care for family members. Dropout rates of 16-24 year old students from low income families are seven times more likely than those from families with higher income. By the end of the fourth grade, low income students are already two years behind, and by the twelfth grade, they are four years behind. How can these kids perform when they are adults, when they fall so far behind in school?
The USA educational system is ranked as the fourteenth best in the world. South Korea is number one, followed by Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, UK, Canada, The Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany and Russia. Why is the most powerful nation in the world ranked in the middle of the pack in educating its children? Last year $1.15 trillion was spent on education in the US, of which 10.8% came from federal funds and the rest from state and local contributions. You would think that is enough to educate every student, rich or poor, but obviously it was not sufficient.
The US sure has a lot of things to fix to break into the top ten countries in educating its kids. Since the vast majority of funding for education falls back to the states and local communities, local help is where it has got to begin. It has to fix the children who go hungry and the children of the poor. There are great organizations to contribute to for this---like Save the Children and the Children's Defense League to help these less fortunate kids. We have to fix the homeless children situation where organizations like Stand Up for Kids and NationalHomeless.org focus on these suffering children. And somehow we have to get the right equipment into the hands of these poor kids, like the right books, pencils, paper and calculators so they can keep up with everyone else in their classrooms. At DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away backpacks stuffed with school supplies to six different classrooms (35 of the stuffed backpacks to each classroom), so make sure you nominate your favorite teacher or school or town to win these backpacks.
I wish we could just flip a switch and poverty and hunger and homelessness would disappear for our kids, but we all know that won't happen. Who chooses what kids are born into wealth and those who are born to live on the streets? Who chooses the kids who suffer in overcrowded schools or those who go to schools with sophisticated arts, music and computer programs? Back in 1918, the US House of Representatives passed the American Creed, which states "The United States of America is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, established on the principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for all." It is up to all of us to bring these poor, hungry and homeless children up to the standards our forefathers envisioned for all of us, and we need to start today.