It's hard to take seriously politicians who want to gut school construction funds from a large-scale economic stimulus. It's even harder when those hatchetmen claim to be doing it in the name of our nation's young people. (House Minority leader John Boehner and Sen. John McCain call these investments "generational theft.")
But it's not just the radical arm of the GOP that's philosophically opposed to spending to provide students with what they need. Allocating money for school modernization and constructions funds was too much to stomach for "moderate" Republican swing-voters Sens. Specter, Snowe, and Collins, and they got their way. I'm stupefied that these three "moderates" can vote for a $789 billion dollar economic recovery package and object to this crucial element of that package, one supported aggressively by the president, that will create many jobs and will go far to prop up future generations.
Have the nay-sayers walked into an urban or rural public school lately... or ever? Have they talked to students, parents, or teachers about what kids need to succeed? If not here's what they're missing:
--teachers who are well-qualified and well-supported,
--books that aren't sixty years old and raggedy,
--well-resourced science labs, gymnasiums, auditoriums, art rooms
--after-school opportunities to enrich growth and mitigate "idle hands"
--new curricula for 21st century skills
--buildings that aren't falling apart
--classrooms with climate control (This is a personal favorite; I'd like to invite any member of Congress who browbeats about "high standards" while fighting school modernization spending to sit through a day of classes in a 95-degree un-air conditioned classroom. This is real for thousands of students.)
Money is an indispensable element in making these necessary bullet-points into realities for all students in America. (After all, the wealthy and privileged seem to tilt toward selecting schools that possess the items on this list as bare minimums.)
That said, the Obama administration's stimulus plan, while far from perfect, is a big win for education. The bill will deliver an unprecedented $100 billion toward educating America's students, an investment of the most important kind we can make.
A case in point can be found at the Bronx's DeWitt Clinton High School, where I taught last year. At Clinton, after-school activities have been slashed and many classes have been packed beyond the already overstuffed cap of 34 students per class. "Deans" who take on the critical task of managing behavior issues have been eliminated. Morale for students and staff has plummeted. One can be sure that the unwelcoming environment engendered by recent budget cuts has stifled excellence in many students and pushed many borderline youths out the door. Now, the stimulus money can alleviate the extreme pinch brought on by the economic downturn and restore and add critical programs to schools like DeWitt Clinton. The result will be more learning, more graduates, more qualified citizens entering college and the work force, and more capital generated for our country.
It's a victory that President Obama succeeded in getting most of what he wanted for schools in the stimulus bill. It's unfortunate that some shortsighted have succeeded in blocking the portion allocated for building and modernizing our broken down schools.
Dan Brown is a teacher in Washington, DC and the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.