“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” - Proverbs 24:10
That’s one of my favorite assertions from the book of Proverbs. Times are way beyond tough and adversity is the order of the day in public education here in California. According to a flyer that came home in my children’s weekly home-school communication envelope last week, “California public schools and colleges have been cut over $20 billion in the last three years; 30,000 teachers were laid off. This year we stand to lose another 20,000 teachers and $2-$4 billion more in budget cuts.” In our local school district, the Pasadena Unified School District, we stand to lose $700 per student in addition to the $32 million that’s been cut in the last four years. This fall, my three sons will enter kindergarten, second, and fourth grades. Larger class sizes, reductions in programs, school closures and personnel layoffs are, and will continue to be, a reality here in the Golden State. So you’re probably thinking, “Okay, so tell me what’s going great.”
One of the great things that I see in California is the daily examples parents rising to the challenge that the current budget climate presents. I see parents seeking information so as to be better equipped to advocate for their children and schools. I had a chance conversation yesterday with a fellow parent at Little League practice that resulted in the parent learning things about our local public schools -- how they are funded, how they are staffed, and why so many of them have closed in the last several years -- that he didn’t know before. As our conversation ended, he shared, “Wow, I have a lot to learn.” He didn’t sound defeated, he did sound like a dad who was resolved to learn more and do more for the sake of his son as well as his community.
I know a stay-at-home mother of three school-age children who over the course of the past school year has used her skills, talents, and passion for music instruction to keep the third grade violin program alive at our school. After realizing last summer that our school would no longer have the program, a direct result of budget cuts, she stepped up and stepped in. Nearly every Monday of this school year, she’s been there, assisted by four other parent volunteers, introducing 120 eager third-graders, fifteen at a time, to the joys of playing the violin.
A parent-led group called Educate Our State is doing great things to unite, empower, and mobilize parent groups throughout California. They’re building a network of like-minded parents, non-profits, and organizations committed to making sure that California provides its children with high-quality and appropriately-funded public education. Earlier this year, Educate Our State launched a letter writing campaign that resulted in supporters of public education sending over 60,000 letters to 100% of the California legislature regarding saving public education funding. Please visit www.educateourstate.org and check out the great work that they’re doing.
The resolve is there and the political will of parents is growing each day. It’s in challenging times and in the face of adversity that we grow. If we can continue to educate ourselves, work with one another, and thoughtfully engage for the good of our children there will be more great things to report on in days to come.
Cushon Bell is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from California.