How rational –or sincere–are we about funding public education?

THIS MORNING on The Takeaway on National Public Radio:

Listen to a discussion of how teachers are making their voices heard across the nation and putting lawmakers on notice–or retiring them for failing to properly fund public education.  (starts at the 15 minute mark)

Meanwhile: THIS AFTERNOON: Here in Hawaii, a ballot measure to address the needs of public education was struck down.


Underfunded public schools and overworked teachers are both a local and a national phenomenon. Teachers have taken action and pressured some states to act. What will it take for Hawaii to address the shameful shortchanging of public education –teachers, students and  schools –in this state?

As striking hotel workers in Hawaii tell their employers that “One Job Should be Enough,” teachers in Hawaii and across the nation are saying the same. This is the story of one teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah whose struggle to juggle work and family, and pay the bills is one many teachers in Hawaii will recognize. For her, as for for many teachers in Hawaii, one job is not enough.

Sixth grade teacher Melody W. at her second job at a hotel.She also tutors to earn extra money to pay the bills.

Melody W. is a sixth grade teacher and a mother of two: a seven year old and a 13 year old. Born and raised in Tennessee she moved to Utah in 2014, “ just around Halloween,” she says with a laugh that punctuates most of her conversation.

But building a life in Utah has been no laughing matter. In addition to working full time as an elementary school teacher, Melody also works at a hotel in Salt Lake City. She does this because she wants to do more than survive. She wants to be able to give her family the few extras that make life special- things like movies and vacations.
“And we don’t want to be saddled with debt. We have a mortgage to worry about. My husband works from home on his graphic design business. So my salary is the steady income we can plan around.”
To help supplement their family income, Melody also started a tutoring business that takes some of her time on weekends.
“This is what we are forced to do to have a decent life. In 2017 teachers in some districts got a 13% raise. So my salary as a teacher is better than it used to be….but it just isn’t enough to give us the quality of life we want. I love teaching and I love the kids, but down the road, I may be forced to leave the profession I love for something that pays better. The way things are right now, teachers are having more and more mandates handed down, more testing, more requirements to meet, but very little help with the increased workload or with getting the resources we need. At some point it becomes unbearable,” she says.
Lawmakers should visit the classroom
Melody has some advice for lawmakers. “Our legislators, the people who come up with these new requirements need to come see for themselves the challenges that teachers like me deal with every day. Maybe then they will be in a better position to ensure that our schools are funded properly and that we have the resources we need to do our job,’ she said.
One example she gave was the need for more mental health services for children.
“But social workers are overburdened,” she said. “They are assigned to cover too any students and therefore don’t get to spend enough time with the ones who really need their help. If lawmakers saw what we really do, if they understood what we face in the classroom every day, maybe they would do a better job of ensuring funding for our schools. Maybe they will see how important it is to allocate more funds to address the mental and emotional health of our children.”
Chrysler executive Lee Iaccoca, is reputed to have said: “In a completely rational world, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”
It is worth asking if the choices we make with regard to how we fund our schools and pay our teachers can honestly be called rational. The Constitutional Amendment to fund public education in Hawaii was an opportunity for voters to say YES to making sure the people to whom we entrust our precious children for several hours of every school day are paid fairly and have the resources they need to do their job. So they do not have to rush from one job teaching kids to another waiting tables before rushing home for a few hours of sleep before starting the exhausting cycle all over again. That, said the Special Education teacher who brought us our pizza at a popular restaurant in Honolulu recently, is what she has to do to pay her mortgage. That full-time teacher/part-time waitress asked to remain nameless.
It’s past time to stop finding something to dislike in every funding proposal that comes up, and end the years of neglect of public education in Hawaii.
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Posted in I BLOG, Public Education, Teachers
2 comments on “How rational –or sincere–are we about funding public education?
  1. A fraught issue; a moving narrative. Thank you.

    (I was to attend a panel discussion on this now-OBE issue next Tuesday/10-23. Along the way, I intended to raise a point [I also surfaced it at another tax-related seminar a couple of years ago…the consensus was that Hawaii hasn’t the courage to face such a “radical” idea since Gov. Cayetano tried and failed during his tenure] that has been a “third rail” for too long: I am a retiree, and my [untaxed at the state level!] retired income should be subjected to a tax. And what better use for such a tax that it be fenced solely for public education? I can envision a scale graduated along adjusted-gross-income lines…I’m solidly in a middle class-income bracket, and there is no question in my mind that, if my tax share came to about $500 per annum, I would gladly invest in Hawaii’s present and future. Others smarter than I can figure out the details, but I say “Go for it!” Is there a charismatic and persuasive politician(s) and/or opinion molder(s) among us?)

  2. fourthisfantastic says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. The public education system in our country is in crisis and those in a position to change it do little to make that happen. Let’s keep our voices being heard, eventually whether they want to listen or not they will have no choice but to do it.

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