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May 26, 2009

The Recession's Front Line: Our Schools

Recession The day after our SVmoms conference call with Katie Couric about Children of the Recession, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) announced system wide cuts to the New York City public schools.  The official amount was 5%, but at my daughters' school it was about 15%.  This is on top of the fact that our school will be expanding from an already record setting 7 kindergartens to 9 kindergartens next year.  One thing was clear from our call and from the reporting on CBS News; our schools are bearing the brunt of the recession and yet the government is not responding in kind.

Sure, we all read about the enormous stimulus package aimed at education, but it turns out that most of that money is earmarked for specific entitlements.  And, lets not forget that that money has to be funneled through the local bureaucrats.  In New York City we have the opposite problem from many school districts.  Instead of shrinking population and merging of schools we have a surge in public school interest and enrollment that has caught the DOE by surprise despite parents warning that this was coming.  New York Magazine has a feature article describing this debacle in detail.  But, the bottom line is that at a time when our schools are called upon to do more than ever the powers that be are asking them to make do with much less.  What does that mean?

Well, while parents are cutting back after school activities and enrichment because of finances their kids will likely lose art, music and other enrichment in their school day because of budget cuts.  The wealthier schools will be able to make this up in fundraising, but even that will be less dependable in this economy.  There are also practical concerns for schools stepping in to help a child in need emotionally.  Kids are coming to school carrying the stress of their homes, whether there's a job loss or fear and uncertainty.  So, can a school afford to lose their psychologist or social worker at a time when kids may need that help more than ever?

One thing we've heard over and over again is that this crisis can be an opportunity.  I've always wondered what would happen if everyone had to send their child to public school.  If the uber-wealthy and just plain rich didn't have the option of private school and instead had to pour their resources and considerable political sway into their local zoned school.  It would be interesting to see how quickly the elected officials would respond.  How fast new schools would be built and older ones upgraded.  How many concessions would be made in union negotiations and how much outcry would be heard when things are done without parental input.  This will never happen I know, and don't get me wrong; the current school system has plenty of well-off and outspoken parents.  But, this turn of events, this surge of upper middle class parents demanding a place in their local public school could be a good thing in the long run.  It’s a shame however that it is such a disaster in the short term.

Our schools are where our children spend the bulk of their time.  The teachers and administration are seeing the impact of the recession every day - both in their school budgets and on the kids' faces as they enter with all of the weight of their homes on their shoulders.  For those of us parents fortunate enough to have time or money to support our schools now is the time to step up and do it.  For those of us parents with a stake in the public schools (and really isn't that all of us?), now is the time to demand better from politicians.  The recession has impacted children in so many negative ways - from healthcare to homelessness to obesity - shouldn't we at least make sure that our schools get the resources and support they need?  They are our true front line of defense, and they deserve all the back up they can get.

This is an original nycmomsblog post.

Rebecca Levey is a freelance writer and mother of twin girls. She lives, works, parents and tries to maintain her sense of humor in New York City.  You can follow her blog at www.beccarama.com


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