Investing In Our Future

Yep, it’s September, so the kids are back in school–and so are the teachers and staff.

Cafeteria lunches are being dished up, homework is being graded, quizzes administered, athletic games played, test scores analyzed, locker combinations learned, routines established.

And this week, however early in the year, is Worthington High School’s Homecoming. The Trojan Field lights are primed for tonight’s football game and appearances by the WHS Homecoming court, choir and marching band to boot.

With all that activity under way, it’s easy to lose sight of what keeps this education train chugging along on a daily, monthly and annual basis: state, local and federal taxpayer funding. We’ve come a long way from drafty one-room schoolhouses dotting rural landscapes, but there’s never a shortage of needs, even in this age of air-conditioned buildings and school-issued electronic learning devices.

Achievement gaps persist, language barriers can exist, too many students report for the first day of kindergarten without invaluable early childhood education experiences, some kids are victims of domestic abuse and others arrive from deprived homes with incomes well below the poverty line.

Adequately educating student bodies that walk through our school doors with such a wide variety of challenges, backgrounds, needs and abilities is obviously not a simple task.

And yet our future–the future of Worthington, Minnesota, the United States–depends on it. If the current generation of students falls behind and/or fails to meet minimum educational standards, with what are we left? Where will we find the engineers to design and maintain our roadways and bridges, or the nurses to staff hospitals and clinics, or the meteorologists to alert us to weather patterns?

Today at 9 a.m., a kick-off rally for the District 518 referendum takes place at WHS. The district is requesting a $500-per-pupil levy for a 10-year period, with the vote going to the people on the Nov. 4 general ballot.

A vote in its favor will maintain the essential level of support the district receives for students, and the proposed new assessment is not dramatic (homeowners of $100,000 houses will realize an annual increase of $13.40 per year, while owners of $125,000 houses will pay an additional $16.75 annually, the district’s materials cite).

Considering that many teachers pay hundreds of their own dollars to supplement what is provided for their students (a recent survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association–notably, NOT a teacher advocacy group–reported that a full 99.5 percent of U.S. public school teachers spent at least some out-of-pocket money for the 2013-14 school year on classroom or other instructional supplies, with a per-teacher average of $485 annually expended by those surveyed), this doesn’t seem like an exorbitant amount to ask.

Additionally, our schools strive to meet state and federal mandates that are, nevertheless, unfunded by those governing organizations, leaving local administrators with no choice but to direct dollars to cover those imperatives (even if they wouldn’t otherwise be first on the list of budgeting priorities).

A pair of creative teachers (one a physical education instructor, the other a science specialist) from Union Grove, Wis., has made a start-of-school video for a third consecutive year, spoofing popular songs (last year they used “That’s What Makes School Beautiful,” this year it’s to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”) to cleverly fire up their high school students for the year ahead and to reinforce a few basics (stay awake, be on time, do your homework, pay attention in class).

They also manage to clearly convey the notion that, really, American students are darn lucky to have the opportunity to learn and attend schools that have, for the most part, decent standards, buildings and educators.

Ultimately, education is about opportunity, and school is where kids can grow and learn so they can, in turn, become contributing, productive citizens.

Locally, referendum volunteers have chosen the theme “Strong Schools = Strong Communities: Invest in Our Future.”

And that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.