By Drs. Todd S. Hawley and Adam Jordan
Schools are open, and teachers are hard at work educating all y’all’s kids, your grandkids, and your neighbors’ kids. Teachers are doing their thing to engage and educate kids all across the South, and we see the wonderful work y’all are doing.
But this year, we believe our greatest challenge is to create a movement that connects directly to the mission of creating a Better South — fully funding public schools.
This year, as teachers were prepping their classrooms and getting ready for students to arrive, we noticed Twitter was flush with teachers and their Amazon shopping lists — filled with all the things they needed for their classrooms that their schools couldn’t supply. As these teachers ask friends and strangers to help them #clearthelist, almost all of them say the need comes from inadequate funding for schools where they teach.
We were troubled by this trend of teachers having to beg for school supplies. We fully admit we taught in an era before Pinterest and Instagram made classroom decorating a full-on mission for some teachers. We believe in creating engaging spaces where students are inspired to learn and grow, but when teachers open up shop on Amazon and ask strangers to fill in the gaps, we’re missing the root cause of the situation.
Schools lack the funding necessary to support students and teachers. There just isn’t enough money going to fund public education, and that leaves our teachers to scramble to do right by their kids. For many, that means spending their own money or asking for help on social media. Even if you missed the back-to-school rush and have never heard of the #clearthelist hashtag, you probably have noticed citizens, politicians, and the news media paying more attention to the fact that teachers and schools have been struggling under the current funding models. “CBS Sunday Morning” recently ran a story, “How We Have Failed Our Teachers,” highlighting how almost one in five teachers work a second job during the school year and how a third of teachers make less than $45,000 a year. The story also highlighted the power of teachers who have organized, citing how recent teacher strikes and the #RedforEd movement have led to increased pay.
Despite these gains, teachers are still leaving the profession in record numbers.
We applaud politicians who propose to increase teacher pay. We support the calls to increase annual pay for all teachers by $10,000 to $15,000 across the board. Teachers deserve to be paid better. It would be a great and much-needed, but a pay increase is only a start.
Much more is needed to create conditions where students, teachers, and their schools can feel supported, respected, and financially stable. A one-time pay increase addresses only the most visible problem, but not the underlying issue: The way we fund schools is failing our teachers, our kids, and our communities. It isn’t working. We must do better.
So, we want to kick off this school year with a few questions we feel should be driving the discussion about how to support teachers, schools, and communities.
Why aren’t we fully funding public schools?
Why are we content to let buildings fall apart?
Why are we content with teachers being forced to work two jobs to pay the bills?
Why are we content to let students attend schools that lack the resources necessary to be successful and engaging?
These are the questions we need to address if we are serious about improving public education. That discussion needs to start now.
Systems where schools are rewarded for high performance and where competition drives funding do not constitute full funding. Using vouchers to send kids to private schools isn’t full funding, either. Nor are the charter schools that divert funds away from local public schools and line the pockets of the for-profit companies that run them.
Instead, we propose the federal and state governments fully fund public education in the United States, because your ZIP code should not determine the level of funding your school receives.
Full funding from our governments would bring equity to the current divide between rich and poor districts. It would also encourage more people to view teaching as a viable profession and help keep teachers in classrooms. It would eliminate tax incentives for businesses to build in certain communities, leaving schools without adequate funding under the current funding models. And it would lead to a robust discussion of what it means to support the education of all students who show up, no matter where they were born or what school they attend.
What if all of us — teachers, everyday citizens, politicians - demanded we fully fund public schools, instead of forcing teachers to beg strangers to #clearthelist of supplies they need?
We need a strong public movement to fund schools. Without it, the downward spiral of low teacher morale, caused by low pay and little respect, will continue to slowly kill public education as we know it. So the next time you feel like helping a teacher #clearthelist, we also encourage you to call your U.S. senator and congressional representative, along with your state legislators. Get them or their staff members on the line to hear your demand that for-profit charters be dismantled and the funds returned to local public schools — so they can benefit students instead of corporate interests. If we are to build a better South, we should start by fully funding our public schools.
If you have an opinion on #clearthelist or about building a movement to fully fund public schools, we would love to hear from you. Let us know about your experience and share your story with us. You can reach Todd at @115coffeepot and Adam at @aj_wade. Use the hashtags #FullyFundPublicSchools and #SouthernSchooling. We can’t wait to hear from Southern public school teachers and parents about how we can work together to build a movement for full funding.