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NEWSLETTER NO. 20

29 JANUARY 2003

 

I was late last night for the meeting. Late because it started at 7pm, conflicting with the annual State of the Union ("SOTU") address given by the President before the Congress. Many were prompt, knowing they could later read the President's speech (http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/28/sotu.transcript.1/) and that their presence to try to change the dire economic situation of our district's public schools was more pressing than sitting in front of the tube. Local for the moment, not national, was the issue.

But what is national ends up local and what is local is often national in terms of its consequences. From my perspective, I was happy to be tardy for the school meeting for the contrast between the SOTU and then understanding what the nation from the federal, state and local level is really doing - or undoing - for our citizens in terms of education was astounding.

What did the President say about education last night? That he was proud that standards were being imposed to raise the quality of our children's education. An ironic statement in a nation in which the plummeting economy has resulted in cliff-hanging budgets for schools.

A question of priorities and education is losing in the federal government as well as in states and in the cities. It will not help to build more prisons, to maintain our roads, to increase our economy, to fight a war if we do not pay attention to our schools.

What did the President say about us last night? That he was proud of the men and women who serve in our military as we prepare for a war that an enormous number of our citizens do not feel they want or for which they have not yet been given adequate substantiation. That he was proud of those who serve others in civic and social callings - in our country and abroad - and that the administration is proposing legislation and funding to heighten our incentive to volunteer and serve.

But where do all these truly brave and giving citizens come from? They come from our public schools. They come from early education funded by proven organizations like Head Start. They come from our two-year community colleges. They come from our universities.

Governor Gary Locke of Washington State gave the traditional Democratic Party's response http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/28/dems.transcript/ , prefaced by the story of his immigrant grandfather who emigrated from China to be a servant over one hundred years ago. A story of our nation.

How do we turn immigrants - the heritage of most of us - into contributing citizens, involved in our communities, in our government and often, our leaders? By giving them teachers and small classes so that attention is paid to each individual student. By providing enough educational opportunities not only in the "formal" subjects, but in sports, in the arts, in vocational options and training, and in internships and community service projects that give each one of them - and us - the opportunity, the skills, the benefits to be the best "Americans" we can possibly be.

Gov. Locke said, "The values that sustained us -- education, hard work, responsibility and family -- guide me every day"

So what has happened?????

In the State of California, the cataclysmic shift in the state budget has resulted in horrific cuts for public schools, the reasons for last night's meeting. In the small (16 school) but wonderfully culturally, racially and socio-economically diverse district where my daughter attends school, an immediate $3 1/2 million dollar cut is upon us, with next year's projections to be from $11 -12 million per year, just in this district.

Similar cuts are affecting a heretofore strong system of public schools, community colleges, state universities and a grand University of California system that people from all over the world aspire to attend. And California is far from alone in this dire position.

What does that mean in the public schools? Cuts. Pure and simple: cuts, without much consideration of what the spending priorities of state and local governments really should be, while jobs are being lost 1. In administration, those who help carry out the chosen purpose of the district, including the President's "standards".
2. In educational staff, those who teach and inspire our children to reach for goals and, with the consequence of larger classes, a shortfall of good teachers who no longer wish to be in such an overwhelming environment.
3. In librarianship, those who provide a place where both child and adult can privately learn how to research and discover the wonder of the world, even if they may not have the means to experience firsthand all of its history and elegance.
4. In school facility development and maintenance, often in areas where education is the golden opportunity to rise above the increasingly fewer job opportunities, this may mean fewer places for students to study, visit the bathrooms, let alone have heated, air-conditioned or even well-lighted classrooms.
5. In the incomes of families whose members are the educators, the librarians, the service people whose careers are dedicated to providing a quality education and inspiration to our next generation of citizens.

For you who are the students, some of what this means: 1. Larger classes, fewer teachers, less individual attention, fewer class choices.
2. Possibly no sports program and forget (in the shortsightedness that so many use) music and painting or any photography classes.
3. Someone to talk to? There may be no Dean of Students, Vice-Principal, or counselor to whom you go when you have a concern.
4. Bus transportation? Perhaps your family now will have to pay an annual fee. http://www.globe.com/dailyglobe2/029/metro/Schools_can_charge_fee_for_buses_judge_says+.shtml ("Schools can charge fees for buses, judge says.")
5. College counseling and graduation galas? What do these mean when your opportunities for AP, Honors, good plain teaching and classes, or special education services are being slashed?

And do not think it is any better for college students. "State budget crunches are forcing public universities across the country to take the rare step of hiking tuition midway through their academic years". http://www.stateline.org/story.do?storyId=283866

There are no easy choices. Entrenched interests throughout this nation, political and economic, will not voluntarily give up their share of tax revenues. If we truly believe that a good education is the foundational cornerstone of our democracy and economic prosperity, then we must be prepared to make difficult choices that involve not only pushing for greater funding but decisions about what to do if there is no funding there.

For example, perhaps cuts need to be made by governments at all levels in non-essential areas until we are once again able to afford maintaining both a first-rate educational infrastructure and the luxury of non-essential services. But to some people, mail delivery on Saturday is an "essential" service. To others, a smaller classroom, better paid teachers or afterschool activities will make up for a five-day mail service.

Funding of schools, while greatly assisted by our federal tax dollars, is still a function of state dollars. The choice is ours as to where we want our money to go. Let the global threats not distract us from supporting the very structure upon which this country was built: equality, compassion (our President's words) and liberty. Education is the key to all this. It cannot fail. When we shortchange our students, we shortchange our nation.

For those new to this newsletter, I am the author of TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD, an issue-oriented book for young Americans on civic and political activism. Engagement is integral to our democracy and youth and young voters - citizens and residents already - definitely have the voice, power, intelligence, sense of justice, passion and energy to give the benefit of their participation right now. Updates and resources for change are provided on http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com and my periodic newsletter http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com/newsletters.html.


HERE'S WHAT WE'LL TALK ABOUT IN THIS NEWSLETTER:

A. Education Activism
B. The Impending War
C. Black History Month


A. EDUCATION

Please pay attention to your schools.

1. Take a moment to read the State of the Union and ask hard questions. As an example, the President proposes, again, a tax cut to "stimulate the economy." Everyone - you or your parents - would like to spend less on federal taxes. But how can we spend less when monies are evaporating for education and social programs minute by minute? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57024-2003Jan28.html?referer=email ("2004 Budget Likely to Show Record Deficits OMB Chief Projects Annual Shortfalls of More Than $300 Billion for 2003, 2004 ")

And is this really a tax "cut?" States and cities, desperate for monies lost from increasing joblessness and increased cost of public services, and trying to fund even the most basic of services, look to increase revenues through state taxes, if any; property taxes on the places in which you live and sales taxes on the goods you buy. The overall cost may be higher than any anticipated federal "savings" you may receive.

A healthy economy fueled by contributing members of society prepped through the schools is The Way to reduce our taxes with stability.

2. In a faltering economy, there are many conflicting concerns over funding allocations, including
a. jurisdictional concerns between national, federal and state over where monies are best spent, i.e. for the schools or elsewhere?
b. whether funding is allocated for the school district to distribute ("discretionary") or specifically earmarked for certain projects.
c. questions of equality, i.e., whether some public schools in higher economic areas can be privately funded by the residents when schools in poorer districts with residents less able to provide private funded might not be so fortunate.

For an overview of school funding issues:
a. http://www.ncsl.org/programs/fiscal/fac0004t.htm , a 2002 discussion from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Assembly.
b. From the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing 160,000 educators:
(1) http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/infobrief/9510.html A still relevant 1995 paper The second paper, published in EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, and
(2) http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/0205/biddle.html A lengthy BUT thorough report on funding inequities that also clearly describes the issues of school funding entitled, "Unequal School Funding in the United States."

3. Students, ask your teachers and your administration, 'What is going on?" Ask them about the budget. Ask them for their ideas and how you can work with them. If there are votes coming up, ensure that you vote or get those out (GOTV) who can to elect representatives who truly understand what education is about and who can pass measures - parcel taxes, bonds, whatever - that fund our schools for the long run.

4. Use the tools of political activism in terms of pressure upon your city councils, the residents of your area, your state legislatures and governors and wide scale media to bring your educational concerns to the front of the discussion. Show them why education is the ultimate priority. Student rallies, parent rallies, signs, letter writing, joining in groups or PACS for funding, GOTV. All of these are invaluable.

Plan with a strategy that achieves what you want, i.e., long term stable funding for growth. Figure out your goals before you act and you will be far more effective. Use the tools in Chapters Six and Seven in TEEN POWER POLITICS (media literacy and activism) to get what you want accomplished.

5. Share your success stories with others. Remember it may be local but the problem is overwhelmingly national. Send me examples of how you are working for your schools. Others on this list would like to know and I will publish regularly in this crisis.


B. THE IMPENDING WAR

War is really looming. Deadlines are upon us. Although polls show the present administration is losing in support as many of varying political persuasions disagree with imminent war, we seem to be going forward.

1. There continue to be thoughtful arguments on each side of first strike against Iraq and the continuing war on Terrorism. Some pros and cons:
a. Youth Noise, http://www.youthnoise.com/, (1) to enter your voice about the State of the Union vis--vis an impending war,
(2) http://www.youthnoise.com/site/CDA/CDA_Page/0,1004,1243,00.html, "10 things You Can Do About a War with Iraq"
(3) "NOISEmaker christiangirl, 17, is in the Air Force and she's ready to fight and die for her country." http://www.youthnoise.com/n/n69l3
b. http://www.badgerherald.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/12/11/3df6d36a3691e A December 2002 debate at the University of Wisconsin,
c. A still relevant NY times article as we determine the hidden costs of war: http://www.brook.edu/views/op-ed/gordon/20020725.htm
d. http://www.utne.com/cgi-bin/udt/im.display.printable?client.id=utne_web_specials&story.id=10262
"United for Peace" (January 2003), thoughtfully discusses the pros and cons and lists major non-violence/peace movement organizations today., including
(1) United for Peace (Global Exchange) http://www.unitedforpeace.org/
(2) American Friends Service Committee: http://www.afsc.org/
(3) MoveOn.org http://www.moveon.org/
(4) True Majority: http://www.truemajority.org/
(5) Peace Pledge: http://www.peacepledge.org/resist/
e. Check in again to many of the global sites for youth and others listed on my TPP website-9/11 section: http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com/wheretogod.html

2. Activism always takes many forms, dictated primarily by the personality of the activist. Two creative examples of peace activism just today are: a. Rice for Peace http://www.riceforPeace.org/ that says, "In the 1950's, tens of thousands of people sent small bags of rice to President Eisenhower convincing him not to attack China. Now a nationwide effort has been launched to send the same message to President Bush about Iraq. If we are going to send something to Iraq it should be food, not bombs."
b. Songs for Peace. Pastor Susan Ortman Goering of the Boulder Mennonite Church adds the line, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Romans 12:20." to the Rice for Peace message. A Peace Choir formed at her church and, just this Monday, suddenly alone at a peace demonstration, Pastor Goering started to sing, "Down By the Riverside". Alone, among a group of hundreds. Soon another voice joined in. Then others and what had been assorted individuals came together through a powerful song.

Let us join our voices in our efforts for the right solutions for these difficult times.


C. BLACK HISTORY MONTH

1. In February, we annually gather to celebrate the history and contributions of one group of Americans and by so doing we recognize the capacity of contribution in each of us. See http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com/newsletter8.html , my 8th Newsletter (February 2001) , for many links for Black History month and http://www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/BHM/bh_hotlist.html#BHM

2. We have just honored the birthday of a great American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black History month is another moment to observe his lessons. The most relevant today: his principles of non-violence. Check out http://www.thekingcenter.org/.

3. My first book, LIFE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME - where I married the incredible paintings of the late New York artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, with Dr. Maya Angelou's evocative l978 poem - is always a great choice for Black History month!


We have serious concerns in our country, in our world still. Please send me ideas and comments as mentioned below. The more we share our thoughts, our solutions, and our experiences carrying each of them out, the more prepared we all our to be contributing citizens of the world. That is education.


Check out TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD and its companion website, http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com. TPP was written as a guide and a tool for activism. If ever that tool was needed, it is now.

Again, please let me know of a concern or activity you would like me to tell others about. And send this on to others and suggest that they e-mail me if they would like to be added to this list (or if they wish to be removed).

Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you received this twice, please let me know as I refine my list.

Sara Jane Boyers
sjboyers@teenpowerpolitics.com
http://www.teenpowerpolitics.com
TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD A Millbrook
Press/Twenty-First Century Book ISBN: 0-7613-1391-5, paper $9.95/ISBN
0-7613-1307-9 hardcover, $25.90
© 2001 Sara Jane Boyers