There is a nationwide crisis hitting our schools and no one seems to have any idea on what to do about it. In fact, there is not all that much talk about any type of reform to solve the problem. The politicians seem to be content with sitting back and hoping that the issue resolves itself but that does not seem likely to happen. This is a problem is declining enrollment in many of the nation’s largest districts as well as declining revenue. While these may look like two distinct problems at first glance, they are intertwined to create a larger problem for school districts.
To bring the issue a little closer to home, a quick look at the Minneapolis School District shows that this has been the trend here as well. While enrollment numbers can be difficult to determine, the Minneapolis School District saw a 23 percent decrease in enrollment between 2000 and 2006 and their latest information finds enrollment in 2011 at 14 percent below the 2006 level. As with other large school districts around the country, this means budgetary problems for the school district and the possibility of program cuts that can have a detrimental effect on the students.
School funding largely comes down to two sources: property taxes and a per-pupil financing. This makes the declining enrollment hit even harder. Since the economic downturn, property values have declined and the number of houses left vacant due to foreclosure proceedings has increased making property taxes a tenuous source of funding at best. Yet property taxes are important in providing the baseline funding for the general operation of the school and to cover things such as utilities and maintenance. The per-pupil funding that the school receives is what allows the school to provide the necessary programs to give the students a full education and the decline in enrollment makes this more difficult. Lower enrollment means less money which can lead to less educational opportunities for the students that remain.
There are many reasons for the decline in enrollment that range from the simple fact that our society is aging and thus the number of births is remaining relatively level to the increased choices that students and parents have in selecting a school. The rise of charter schools and other private schools that are more accessible now has been a key contributor to the decline in enrollment for public schools and this is likely to continue to be the case. This makes funding public education even more problematic.
Receiving an education is one of the inalienable rights of every citizen of this country and that is the way it should be. The problem is that action needs to be taken in order to protect this right and nothing is being done. It is too easy for politicians to overlook the educational system because the rewards of the system are not realized for years and the politicians in office now will most likely not still be in office when today’s kindergartners graduate from high school. Since students are not voters, their voices are often not heard. There is a great deal of lip service paid to education but very little done to safeguard it as a right. Initiatives such as the Master Teacher Corps are great, but they do not change the simple fact that education financing is an antiquated and broken system. The need for qualified and dedicated teachers is unquestionable. The question is, rather, how they are going to be paid in the future. It is incumbent upon parents to take action now to safeguard not only their children’s education but also the education of their grandchildren. The politicians do not seem to have school financing on their minds and the students can not sway an election so parents needs to step forward and be the voice of those that are too young to vote but will be leading the country some day in the not too distant future.