A sobering graph that lawmakers need to understand

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national debt clock

Laws that require school districts to spend more money will result in almost all of those districts reallocating the money they have. While some lucky districts may receive new grant money, most districts have about the same amount of money this year as they had last year. A law that requires districts to add a new testing, data or curricular requirements can create insuperable difficulties as districts figure out what — and who — to sacrifice in order to meet the latest governmental demand.

Mandated small-group interventions happen at the expense of large group instruction, for example, since districts need staff to do the interventions. Especially in these times, paraprofessionals and aides may have been mostly laid off, leaving teachers to work with small groups. While teachers are doing the small-group work, who helps the students who are not in small groups? A responsible teacher will provide those excluded students with work but, to a great degree, students who don’t qualify for small-group interventions will be on their own. Some students will do the work. Others won’t.

School districts may be running with minimal staff as they attempt to control costs during tough economic times. New mandates that force districts to allocate staff members to well-meaning improvement programs will often then cause unintended, harmful consequences. Even the many staff meetings that occur to plan the latest mandated intervention are taking away time from other possible planning. If my district’s high school has relatively few spirit activities, that’s no surprise. Planning time that might go to creating those activities has been sucked up in the last few years on meetings about improving test scores and integrating the Common Core into lessons.

NCLB has not worked. I believe NCLB could never have worked. But since the government did not provide any significant additional resources when almost everyone was working to near-capacity, the program never had a chance. We can’t add extra instruction without more resources. In many poor districts, teachers spend hundreds and even thousands of their own dollars annually just to keep themselves and students in supplies. Ink for the printer and paper for my colleagues have been among my recent charities.

The debt clock above ought to make the situation clear. Districts seldom have stashes of money sitting around. Many schools barely have enough money, if that, to meet student needs. (Others may be quite comfortable, but that doesn’t help the district in the zip code down the road.) Legislators need to learn to understand financial limits. The credit cards are maxed out in many of America’s educational fortresses. We need an end to unfunded mandates.

Postscript:

The credit cards are certainly maxed out in Illinois. I found it pretty funny a few years back when bullet makers insisted the state pay in advance if they wanted to buy bullets for the Department of Corrections. That was the same year, we postponed numerous bilingual activities until spring as we waited and waited for a check from the state that arrived about six months after it was expected.