Calling for a “hope and change” budget, Hamilton County’s Department of Education wants you to pay drastically more in property taxes to fund its hopes of changing our school system to an all-inclusive community and behavioral center. Moreover, HCDE intends to spend over one half billion taxpayer dollars next year, much of which will fund increases in administration and staff rather than support our great classroom teachers. Hopefully, the County Commission will have better sense.
Asking taxpayers for significantly more each year to fund HCDE’s social experiment spending spree is irresponsible. Though expected revenue represents an increase over previous years, HCDE wants an additional $34 million, much of which will never reach the classroom. In addition to its Learning Communities, HCDE proposes establishing an “office of social emotional learning to address non-academic needs.” It appears that the vast majority of the new funding will be used for counselors, social workers, and “behavior specialists,” not for academic positions.
We need more education, not indoctrination. Last year, the school board was urged to adopt objectives in the APEX Project Report, a 56-page document of leftist directives. Today, similarities between the APEX Report and HCDE’s budget proposal documentation is telling. For example, the APEX report calls for the implementation of “a community school model district-wide” where schools act as “hubs” for social services such as “food assistance, health and wellness clinics, and after-school programs” as well as “health and nutrition programs, counseling, child care, and parenting classes.” According to the report, “Schools must work to ensure student mental and emotional health needs are supported.” It urges policies that include creating support groups that “need professionally trained staff who are culturally competent.” Further, it urges implementing “culturally responsive teaching,” which requires educators to be “trained and supported to move past cultural biases to promote student participation and achievement.” The APEX report also calls for “restorative justice practices” in which schools are encouraged to focus on “community health rather than individual punishment.” Instead of holding people responsible for their actions, schools would focus on practices like “trust-building exercises.” This reeks of social engineering rather than promoting academic success.
Among the many questions the HCDE/Apex approach raises: Could tax revenue devoted to schools be more effectively used by social service agencies? Should the millions spent on social programs be moved to schools? Regardless, redundant government programs lead to fraud, waste and abuse with few positive results.
Moreover, money is not generally a good indicator of educational value. In fact, no meaningful correlation can be found between per-student spending and student performance. Thus, HCDE should focus on spending funds more wisely. With nearly half of HCDE students needing remedial math and over 35 percent remedial reading, education funds should be focused in classrooms, not backrooms. Speaking of which, HCDE spent $75,000 of taxpayer money on lobbyists to keep local, low-income children from seeking a better education through Governor Lee’s ESA program. A wiser use of funds would be supporting hardworking teachers, and growth funds being provided by the state could be used for teacher pay raises without the $34 million increase.
God created three primary institutions - family, church, and government. Society degenerates when any one institution tries to the do the job of another. Raising children is the duty of parents, not government. Research consistently demonstrates that family structure is the key to positively influencing a child’s future. Even for children from disadvantageous backgrounds, parents are crucial to overcoming educational and social difficulties. The primary factors influencing children’s educational and social achievement are parents who raise their educational expectations of their children and who get involved in their children’s lives. Even if it had the authority and unending funds, government doesn’t have the power to make people better parents. Moreover, throwing money into the system won’t make government good parents either.
Society’s ills will not be cured by heaping more money into an already bloated school administration, intertwining it with yet more bureaucracy, or embracing a radical social agenda. Rather, student success will be achieved when we downsize administrations, “right-size” classrooms, and support hardworking teachers. Only when our institutions reinforce rather than run over each other, will our community truly prosper.
Tina J. Benkiser, J.D.