Fund Our Schools Now, by UEA President Heidi Matthews

Multiple Choice: Utah should adequately fund OUR SCHOOLS…

a. Soon

b. Eventually

c. When we can afford it

d. What do you mean? Schools have plenty of money!

e. Let’s form a task force to study it

f. Utah must adequately fund OUR SCHOOLS NOW!

I remember reading “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver and being struck by a confrontation between the adult child and the mother of the missionary family. Years before, an enormous flash flood tore through their African village. Forced to act swiftly and with few options, the mother saved only the youngest child and left the others to fend for themselves in the raging waters. Years later, desperate to understand, the adult middle child confronted her mother with this abandonment and was told “When in crisis, mothers take care of their children from the bottom up.”

That’s where we are right now in our schools and in our profession. We are in an educational crisis and as professionals we need to care for our students and colleagues from the bottom up. We must take charge, as the missionary mother did, and tend to our most vulnerable because what we value is at risk. We face a devastating flash flood in education and we must act NOW.

Where do we start? We start by raising our hands to be a part of the “Our Schools Now” initiative that seeks to dramatically increase funding for education in Utah. Is the initiative perfect? Nope. The urgency of our situation does not give us the luxury of insisting on perfection. Nearly every concern in our schools – from student achievement, increasingly larger class sizes, equity in opportunity, to the teacher shortage  – can all be addressed with adequate funding. Our Schools Now faces this head on.

We start by telling our story. Our personal experiences are powerful. Tell your story as a school counselor whose caseload no longer allows you to notice and reach out to a student at risk of suicide. Tell your story as a first-grade teacher who once had the resources and time to diagnose learning disabilities of your students, but who is now stretched so thin that some are falling between the cracks. Tell your story as a technology teacher who has inspired students using a 3D printer, only to have funding for your project cut. Tell the story of your 7th-grade science student with sporadic attendance who is hungry, but your class of 38 leaves you little time to connect. Our stories are endless and have power beyond measure.

Adequate public education funding is not simply a nice wish…it is mandated in our Utah Constitution. Policymakers had their chance, and certainly made some steps in the right direction, but it is simply not sufficient to address Utah’s public school.

The Our Schools Now initiative is at our doorstep and as educators we must not hesitate. Like the mother in the “Poisonwood Bible” we have few options and we must act swiftly. Unlike the mother in this story, however, we are not alone. Extend invitations to join the UEA in our professional responsibility to act. Our collective stories are the voice for the most vulnerable students, those for whom lack of adequate funding has precluded from the full promise of public education. Our collective voice will give rise to the conditions that will attract bright inspiring educators to the classroom and keep them there.

Our students deserved adequate funding a long time ago. It became a crisis yesterday. It’s time to adequately fund OUR SCHOOLS NOW!

(NOTE: Learn more and sign up to support the Our Schools Now education funding initiative at OurSchoolsNow.com.)