Adequate Funding for Our Schools is an Investment in Our Future

Earlier this week, PDK International released results from their 51st annual poll of public attitudes towards education. The report “Frustration in the Schools: Teachers Speak out on pay, funding and feeling undervalued” revealed that for the 18th year in a row, the public feels a lack of funding is the biggest problem facing the schools in their community. Sixty percent of parents and 75% of teachers say that schools are not receiving enough funding, with that number higher for African Americans. As a veteran educator in New Mexico, I know the importance of adequately funding our public school systems and am not surprised by this finding. But it gave me the chance to think about all the advantages I have teaching in the district where I’m employed.

My school is centered in a very small rural community. Class sizes are small, the population of the district is above the poverty levels of the state; facilities are well maintained with adequate space for learning; teacher pay is well above the state average, and we have adequate access to technology resources. Truly, my school has everything we need to provide a high-quality education to our students. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to teach where I do, but I’m also mindful of the fact that for so many teachers and students returning to school this month, this is not their reality.

In fact, the majority of schools in my state are struggling to meet just one of the criteria I listed above in full for their teachers and students. Nationally, my home state ranks at the very bottom in most areas of quality of life indicators: education, income, and health care. Because we serve so many at-risk students in our state, we have a greater obligation, and a much harder task, to ensure that they are provided with a high-quality education to ensure they have the opportunities and supports they need to be successful. Without adequate funding and without a way to ensure that adequate funding is allocated in a way that maximizes the impact on student learning and access to opportunity, that objective becomes much harder, and in some cases, can almost seem impossible. This means that in addition to simply having adequate funding, districts must have a system for responsibly tracking school-level spending and a robust, accessible way for parents, community members, school and district leaders, and elected officials to use spending data to make better-informed education decisions. Funding and financial transparency are critical in being able to address the most pressing challenges our school systems face.

Even in my district, where our funding is rather adequate, it is always a top concern. As a teacher, I obviously believe funds that directly impact my students are the most important, but there are so many costs that school systems face that the public often doesn’t think about. Transportation, facilities maintenance, support and administrative staff, and many more factors are all a part of that balancing act that districts face and school boards need to consider when trying to create yearly budgets. Because there are so many working parts within school systems and funds are limited, this will always be a top issue, and the lack of financial transparency undermines so much of what we as educators strive to achieve every single day. Fortunately, a newly implemented requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that schools report spending data is moving the system in the right direction. While schools and districts may face some challenges in adopting more effective tracking and reporting systems, shedding a light on school spending and what impacts student outcomes the most is the first step in addressing national concerns around school funding.

While funding alone is not a silver bullet that will solve all issues in public education, the truth is that adequate funding to support student learning is necessary to create a solid foundation upon which to build a successful learning experience for students. Seeing that funding is the biggest concern the public has about our schools is encouraging because it signals that they see our students as the most important investment we have. Our students will soon become the next generation of teachers, entrepreneurs, and great thinkers. The need for a balanced and truly adequate funding solution for schools is the greatest need facing public education, not to simply decrease class size, increase teacher pay, or build newer schools. Improving funding and transparency in our schools shows that we are committed to ensuring our future generations are equipped to be successful adults and leaders.

Dawn Bilbrey attended Eastern New Mexico University and obtained her Bachelor’s in Education in 2000. She then went on to gain her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from ENMU in 2010. Currently, she teaches high school English at Texico High School in Texico, NM.