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Teacher of the Year Heidi Crumrine in the Concord Monitor: “What is a child worth?”

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New Hampshire’s 2018 Teacher of the Year makes an eloquent plea in today’s Concord Monitor for giving all New Hampshire children a fair shot.  She brings her powerful insights as a classroom teacher and leader together with the powerful data from attorneys John Tobin and Andy Volinsky and analyst Doug Hall to make a powerful case that “We are systemically setting our most disadvantaged students up for failure before they even become adults.”  She urges us to realize that, yes, it’s about the money, but it’s really about the future of our children.

Read Heidi Crumrine’s call to action:

I recently received a gift card to Donors Choose, an online crowdfunding site that allows teachers to create classroom wish lists that can be funded through donations. This was a different kind of gift card, though. Instead of getting something for myself I would be able to fund a wish list for a classroom. I decided to try to fund a local project and logged onto the website to make my selection. There were 297 teachers looking for funding within a 25-mile radius of Concord. The projects ranged in price and scope, but each was a request for supplies or materials not a part of the school’s budget.

As I scrolled through the many classroom wish lists, I began to notice an interesting trend. There was a direct correlation between the economic status of a school district and the type of request a teacher was making.

For example, in lower-income school districts, teachers were looking for funding to purchase what many would consider basic classroom supplies: A set of dry-erase markers, book baskets, poster board, paint, printer cartridges or Clorox wipes. In mid-socioeconomic school districts, teachers were looking for bigger ticket items, like a new document camera, iPads, Chromebooks or 3-D printers. Interestingly, at the time of my search, the wealthier school districts did not have any projects looking for funding.

Each of these projects is worthy and deserving of full funding, but what does it say about the state of education if we have classroom teachers crowdfunding for markers, book baskets and printer cartridges?

We have a school-funding crisis in New Hampshire that is perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Putting aside the discussion about the total amount of funding given to public education by the state, for now, the way that we currently allocate funding for our schools creates problems for our children. The vast disparity in property tax rates and the revenues available to New Hampshire schools leads to wild inequities. Essentially, each town must shoulder 70 percent of the cost of educating its children, and as a result, towns that have more revenue from their property taxes have more money to spend on education, despite the sometime heroic efforts of taxpayers in the poorer towns.

For reference, in 2016-17, the Rye School District spent $20,053 per pupil while their tax rate was $5.68 per $1,000. In Allenstown, another elementary-only school district that shares a high school in another community, the tax rate was $17.42 per $1,000 while per-pupil spending was $16,742. That is a difference in spending of $66,220 between Rye and Allenstown for a class of 20 students and Allenstown pays almost three times more in its tax rate. Should children living 40 miles apart have vastly different experiences and opportunities based on such inequitable funding?

The impact of this funding crisis is not surprising. There is a direct correlation between high test scores and graduation rates with property-rich towns. Likewise, property-poor towns have lower test scores and lower graduation rates. This is not because poor people don’t want their children to do well in school; this is not because poor children are less capable; this is not because the teachers in these towns do not teach effectively or want the best for their students. It is because our rich students are attending well-funded schools with a plethora of resources, while our less-affluent students are learning in classrooms with fewer resources.

We are systemically setting our most disadvantaged students up for failure before they even become adults. It can feel harsh to call ourselves out on systemic inequity, but if we aren’t going to name the problem, then we are never going to find a solution.

The long-term effects of systemic educational inequity are well-documented and do not offer much hope. As he discussed in Teaching in the Fourth Industrialized Revolution: Standing at the Precipice, Michael Soskil, Global Teacher Prize finalist, noted that, “Disadvantaged populations who are denied equal access to quality education become increasingly marginalized as technology innovation leads to higher education requirements for jobs that pay a living wage.”

As technology advances, the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots only widens, and through our funding system, we are causing that. It doesn’t have to be that way. Soskil goes on to suggest that, “The most sustainable path towards ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity is through creating an inclusive society, allowing everyone, including traditionally marginalized groups such as ethnic, religious, and other minorities, the same opportunity to participate in and benefit from the economy.”

Conversations about equitable school funding often focus on politics, tax codes or the economy. While important, the problem with that conversational trajectory is that we miss the point. It’s not about dollars and cents, it’s about human beings.

These are our children, and the reality is that those of us with means are the ones making decisions for children from families without means. All of them will eventually grow up and become adults. Why don’t we want to give them the skills and tools they need to be successful and good human beings? It means we must have difficult conversations: conversations about race, because lower-income students are also often students of color; conversations about equity versus equality, because not every student needs the same amount of resources; conversations about what we value as a community.

I don’t have a solution to this crisis, but I do know that it is something we must care about. How we fund schools in New Hampshire should not be a reflection of a particular political party; it should be a reflection of our shared humanity. What do we, as a community, value? If we say that we value education, then that means that we value access to education. If we value access to education, then we value equitable access to education. Doing so would ensure that no teacher has to fundraise for dry-erase markers. More importantly, it will ensure that when a child goes to any public school in New Hampshire, she knows that she is being given tools that she needs to find success in life.

Interested in funding a classroom? Visit donorschoose.org for more information.

Book Suggestions:

For older readers:

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christine Lamb

Educated by Tara Westover

The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell

For middle grade readers:

I Am Malala Young Reader’s Edition by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormack

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaley Hunt

For elementary school readers:

Junie B., First Grader (At Last!) by Barbara Park

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

For little readers:

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)


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