Education Is In A State of Financial Peril

Version 2Municipalities have spent a large amount of money on fighting the COVID-19 virus in their communities. St. Louis had spent 2.3 million dollars in April. The School Superintendents Association estimates the average school district will spent 1.8 million dollars on COVID-19 expenses just to reopen schools. Kansas City will spend more than $2 million on cleaning, PPE, social distancing, and facilities’ cleanliness for the 2020-2021 school year alone (KSHB Channel 41) with the following allotments:

  • $350,000 in PPE
  • $340,000 for digital temperature scanning tablets in every school. This is different than no-touch thermometers
  • Upgrading air filters for better air cleanliness, changing filters more frequently, and letting in more outside air, which increases utilities
  • $210,000+ for water quality testing and refillable water bottles for every student
  • $500,000 for Plexiglas dividers between learning stations

In my article What Will It Take To Allow Children To Return To School During The Pandemic, I mentioned most of these. Now we can see the financial cost. This is why federal financial aids to municipalities for reopening schools is so important. Sadly, the most devastating results of this financial crisis in education will once again fall to students in urban districts such as St. Louis, Kansas City, New York City, Los Angeles and countless others. Where there is this kind of budget shortfall there are bound to be cuts, and these are made most readily in the all too familiar area of arts education. Today, I want to share one music teacher’s story. I’m sure we can all relate to her passion for teaching and for her students, and the devastation brought about by the turn of events described. Although this is one teacher’s story, it is and will be repeated countless times across our country. We must support better ways to fund these current shortfalls brought about by the pandemic, and tirelessly search for better ways to fund public education so that it is not repeatedly left so vulnerable to budget cuts which harm our children. Do what you can to support federal funding relief now, then work for a permanent solution in your community. Here is Colette’s story (AFT Voices).

Teaching music in the public schools is not only a job for me. It’s my passion. I have been playing the piano for over 30 years, and still whenever I play it calms me, it relaxes me and takes me into another world. It is because of my passion for music and the piano that I got into teaching music in New York’s public schools.

My students have this experience with music as well. Over the years, they have learned that the music room is a space where they can feel comfortable and safe. They can come at any time of the day (before, during or after school) to pick up a guitar or play a piano, violin, woodwind or brass instrument. Some students stay for a few minutes, others stay for over an hour.

Creating this space for students helps us build positive relationships. I have had students in my class who maybe weren’t always on task, who don’t always have the best behavior, turn around after time in our music room to show much more positive energy in my classroom and around other students. Spending time making music, in a safe and welcoming space, helps them excel in other areas, too. They learn discipline and teamwork; they develop parts of their minds that kick into gear during other classes; and sometimes they learn to use music as a tool to manage their anxiety.

Spending time making music, in a safe and welcoming space, helps students excel in other areas, too.

Sadly, I won’t be around to help them anymore: I was laid off in June. Cutting funds for music education, music educators and education in general is literally cutting off opportunities for students like mine to grow, to find new ways to engage in school.

The cuts are devastating: Yonkers Public Schools has more than 26,000 students, and after funding decreases, we’ll have just 23 music teachers districtwide. That’s 1,130 students for each music teacher! And it gets worse: The state has threatened to cut an additional 20 percent from public school funding.

Most of my students have no access to formal music education except through classes like mine, in the public schools. Seventy-nine percent of all Yonkers’ students come from families that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch; money for music lessons is just not available.

Cutting funds for music education, music educators and education in general is literally cutting off opportunities for students like mine to grow, to find new ways to engage in school.

Getting laid off from my job is not just about me: I was one of four other accomplished music educators laid off in my district. Our classrooms and programs will disintegrate next year. Our students will wonder where we went, if we left them, if the next educator who takes our place will care about them as much as we did — if there is a next educator.

I am more interested in music than in politics, but to save music I’ve gotten involved in policy too. So now I’m a big advocate for the HEROES Act, a funding bill that could help keep our music classrooms open and our students engaged and learning.

The HEROES Act covers a lot of territory, including the extra funding needed to safely open schools in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Music educators — all educators, really — understand that education is one of the first things to be cut when it comes to scrimping and saving in state and district budgets. The coronavirus is an easy excuse for more cuts, but scrapping one of the most valuable, enriching and supportive pieces of my students’ education — music — will do so much harm.

I just keep thinking of those students picking out tunes on the instruments in my music room, spending time between classes with those neurons firing, creating new pathways for learning and creating relationships with adults who can help keep them in school, ready to learn. We have to pass the HEROES Act for them.

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