With Spring comes a time of renewal. Bitter winds give way to rays of sunshine, flowers begin their ascent out of barren soil, laughter reverberates in area playgrounds, and the songs of birds once again fill the air. In Eastern theory, Um categorizes this soft, circular energy, which cannot exist without the hard, linear energy of Yang. (Referred to as Yin and Yang in Chinese.)
The current reality in our schools creates a stark dichotomy to this time of newness. Rather than a time of starting new projects or realizing reawakened energy, springtime in our school is a time of loss, doubt, and uncertainty. When summoned to the principal’s office, there is fear of surpluses, layoffs, or program cuts. No matter how steadfast their grip, with all of this stress and tension, public educators may not be able to hold on for long.
In the fifteen years I have been teaching, each year has meant doing more with less. The district’s budget has been stretched increasingly thin. Every year the same question arises, “How can we continue serving our students with less than we had before?”
This year, schools were hit with deafening blow. Walker’s budget cuts 127 million dollars from public education next year. This leaves the Madison Metropolitan School District with a twelve million dollar budget gap for the 2015-2016 school year. To make the situation worse, the budget includes no increase to the revenue limit. While this formula will mean property tax relief for the wealthy in our society, it increases the damage to our public schools, at a time when our government paves the way for private school vouchers and independent charter schools.
In addition to the monetary deficit, the current budget also calls for an unrealistic and unfair assessment of our public schools. The Smarter Balanced Assessment will be eliminated after its first year of use, leaving educators to wonder why we are jumping through the hoops of administering the test this year. Schools will be offered choices of assessments, making comparisons among schools inaccurate. Ranking systems utilizing letter grades will be publicized, but will in no way paint a true picture of our schools, students, or the work taking place. This hits schools with a diverse student body and high poverty levels the hardest, due to the effects of testing bias and the correlation between income and performance on standardized tests.
As our public education system is devalued, schools are mislabeled as “failing schools, and educators lack the proper resources to serve their students, it is no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession. Between November 1st, 2013 and October 31st, 2014, 74 teachers retired from MMSD and in that same timeframe an alarming 140 resigned. This is a trend that will continue if we do not see changes in our current political climate, initiative fatigue, and budgetary decisions.
According to Eastern philosophy, you cannot have heat without the cold. There is no sunshine without the darkness of night, and the hope of being reborn must accompany death. During a time when I am ready to run and play outside with my students and speak of hope for their future, Governor Walker is eradicating public education – an institution that is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is no wonder that it is so hard to appreciate the beauty of spring.
MMSD Budget Information: https://budget.madison.k12.wi.us/budget-2015-16
Walker proposes state budget with tax cut, school choice expansion: http://www.channel3000.com/news/politics/Walker-proposes-state-budget-with-tax-cut-school-choice-expansion/31078030