You get what you pay for

You get what you pay for.

When we buy something cheap and it breaks the next day, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. When we were standing in the store making our choice, we could see that the more expensive one was a superior product. The other one looked OK, said it would do the same thing and it was after all cheaper. We took the chance. When buying a car seat for our children however, I don’t think we would choose the cheaper product if it were inferior, nor would we hire a cheaper babysitter if they were not totally dependable and I would argue that when we send our children off to school each day, we would not choose to send them off to a school that was merely adequate school. We must be honest with ourselves however. If we are not willing to invest our hard earned dollars in our schools, we cannot expect much from them.

The products of education are our children and it is the quality of our teachers and the resources we give them to work with, which help our children achieve success. Each of our children though, is unique and has their own set of needs and learning styles.

Private schools recognize this and keep their class sizes low. The teachers have the time and space to address each child’s needs. The curriculum is diverse so that students can be exposed to information outside of the core subjects and for many of them, will provide the element that turns on their “light bulb” and broadens their view of the world. Public schools know this too but as a collective enterprise, for those of us who can’t afford private education, or just really believe in the benefit of having an educated community, they need our collective help to achieve this.

I think that most of us would agree, when we get too much going on at one time, things start to fall through the cracks. Many things simply don’t get done at all, yet this is in effect, what we are asking our teachers to do, if we do not secure adequate funding for all schools in Michigan, in the long term. “Great” teachers can still do a good job with larger classes, and many of them will, but think of what they could do if they had smaller classes and more time to plan.

Some argue, that if we could just eliminate teacher’s retirement and benefit packages, we could save a lot of money and they would be correct in saying so, but how will we attract great teachers to our schools if we are not willing to provide these benefits? Great teachers are capable of doing lots of things and will surely choose other professions that have more security.

Under the current budget crisis, Ann Arbor was forced to restructure the Middle Schools this year, doing its part toward cutting costs. This was a painful process for all those involved and anyone who attended the middle school restructuring meetings knows, that it was a “lesser of evils” philosophy, which guided their recommendations. As a result, our middle schools will loose an elective next year. They will also likely loose the advisory period, which has provided a homeroom for our students to start each day, at a time, I would argue, when students need guidance and security as they transition to the much larger environment of the middle schools. This restructuring will ultimately allow the district to save money on teachers. Loosing an elective however, will mean loosing exposure to important knowledge outside the core subjects. Some examples are the visual arts, which teach creativity, a skill that will aid students who go on to major in any subject, or home economics, which might turn kids on to cooking or sewing, extended health which at the middle school level can be invaluable to many, who are forming their lifetime health habits. The visual arts will continue to be offered but there won’t be enough time in the schedule, if students are playing an instrument, and taking a foreign language, to explore these other areas. The same goes for PE and for the rest, the possibilities will be limited as there will simply be fewer course offerings. Extended health and home economics, along with other electives, are slated to be cut altogether. We were told that these decisions were made so that class sizes would not need to increase, but we can’t forget that this is only one year of cuts. The AA Public Schools have already suffered cuts the last several years. I have seen class sizes grow over the six years that my children have been attending, so not getting bigger, really means not getting huge.

Alma Wheeler Smith, one of our State Representatives, made what I considered to be one of the best comments of the evening, at the town Hall meeting held last week at Washtenaw Community College, She expressed that times are tough, and cuts need to be made, but we MUST work to gain back what we loose. I believe she is right and for education this means bringing back our teachers and our programs. We must work to secure funding for all schools in Michigan in the long term. All of us will benefit from having a healthy, creative and educated workforce. We must be willing to invest our hard earned money towards this cause. The good news though, is that we will get what we pay for and our schools will be of quality rather than merely adequate.

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There's a reason why it's called *public* education

Well said, Jennifer! It’s true, we have to tighten belts and make sure we’re being as careful with our money as possible, but spending on public schools really is an investment, and not a luxury.

I’m always amazed at how many people talk about cutting school funding as if it’s the same as deciding to cut back on the number of flavored latte’s they drink in a week. Education is an investment in children, and it will shape their (and our) world for decades to come. Isn’t that worth a little investment? Perhaps especially when times are tough?

One of the reasons why governments exist is to make sure some things get done which wouldn’t otherwise be organized. Public education — making sure all our children get a solid education – is one of those things. In frontier towns, sometimes the only reason they formed a local government at all was to pool their money and start a school. When the Great Lakes states were first organized as the Northwest Territory, land and money in each county were set aside for public schools. I wonder if we aren’t in danger of losing our way.

It’s up to all of us to make sure we don’t!