The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
As the graduate from a public high school, I know what the impact of public schools can have on a person. At Newton South High School, I was fortunate enough to have many fantastic teachers, to participate in a number of extracurricular activities, to receive a high quality education that well prepared me for college as well as for my job, and to make great friends, many of whom I am still close with today. My public school education made me the person who I am today.
The number of children attending public schools is at a record level – and it’s growing. This fall, about 49.8 million students are attending public elementary and secondary schools. Yet, many of these schools, especially those that serve children in poverty, are underfunded, overcrowded, and rundown with underpaid, and overworked teachers.
As the end of this year closes and we look towards thinking about next year’s budget, we need to ensure that funding is preserved for the public education system. While states and localities pay for most of the costs of elementary and secondary education, the federal government also plays a key role in funding these programs. Education funding is only 2 percent of the federal budget, yet since January 2011 education funding has been a target of deep cuts. Between FY2010 and FY2013, funding for programs was cut by $3.714 billion, and over 50 education programs were eliminated through these cuts. Rural Education and Elementary and Secondary School Counseling are two of many programs that received no relief from sequester cuts. Funding at the Department of Education, except for Pell grants, is still well below the FY2008 levels.
This additionally goes along with other state cuts: in the 2013-2014 school year, at least 35 states provided less funding per student for the school year than they did before the 2008 recession, and fourteen of those states have cut their funding per student by over 10 percent. These state level cuts have major consequences for local school districts.
Additionally, the federal government targets a significant proportion of its education spending to low-income students. It is important to note that spending for FY2014 in the Labor, Health, and Human Services account, which funds many critical services for children and low income families, such as education, was down 8.5 percent from FY 2010. This is significant since many programs regarding education rely on the Labor, Health, and Human Services spending bill, such as Head Start and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Race to the Top, one of President Obama’s administration’s landmark education programs, also depends on the Labor, Health, and Human Services spending bill for funding.
Federal education funding provides assistance in many areas - raising academic standards, improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes, and helping the growing numbers of children with special needs - that are critical to states, local school districts, and other programs and are ultimately vital to the future of America’s children. This federal funding is also targeted with the hopes of reaching the schools and students who have the greatest needs.
Children are the inheritors of the future and must be taught how to be stewards of the world. As it is written, "One who teaches a child Torah is considered to have taught that child and that child's children and grandchildren, to the end of the generations" (Kiddushin 30a). By helping our children develop into educated, healthy, vibrant adults, we reaffirm the value of life and God's handiwork. The American Jewish community, and the Reform Movement specifically, have long been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah2:1). We have a special obligation to support our public schools and to make known to our communities the important role that they play in our society.