“Mrs. Maloney, why do you have to leave us?” Her big gray eyes looked up at me pleadingly as she hugged me tight across the middle as if to stop me from exiting the classroom door.
My heart was torn – I didn’t really want to leave! I love my days spent teaching my fifth graders about the joys of reading, the expression of writing, and the importance of learning history. And any teacher knows that it is always easier to be in school than to write sub plans. So why was I leaving?
I was appointed to the Governor’s Classrooms First Council last summer. I am the one teacher on a Council made up of state and local superintendents and district and charter school business and finance officials. No pressure there! Work on the Council involves bi-monthly meetings (during the school day, of course), weekly phone meetings, and lots of reading and learning as we draft recommendations to the Governor and Legislature regarding our current school funding formula and other policies to improve educational outcomes and make school finance more transparent and uniform.
Rewind to 7:15am this morning. I had an IEP transfer meeting for a student who came from out of state. Her mom, being an excellent advocate for her student, had many questions about our special education teachers and programs. This student is also an English Language Learner and her mom spoke highly of the language immersion school she had previously attended with a class size of less than ten. Her mom expressed shock that I fulfill English Language Learner and many special education objectives and goals in the general education classroom.
But this IEP meeting illustrates exactly why I have to leave my classroom early. It is because I am the one teacher on the Council. I am the only teacher in the room. As a result I am in the unique position of guiding policy, and also seeing the impact of policy directly where the rubber meets the road…in my classroom with my students.
I’ve witnessed how the deep cuts in education funding since 2008 have negatively affected our students. The cuts have led to loss of support for students who often have greater needs and less help from home due to the same financial downturn. Arizona ranks 46th among U.S. states in a gauge of child poverty and other key indicators like health and education across the country (Source: http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-2015kidscountdatabook-2015.pdf). I’ve watched prevention strategies and programs for our most at-risk students get cut just when our students need them the most. Not to mention the nurses, resource officers, counselors, and countless other support staff positions that have quietly been budgeted out through the years. As the cuts in funding get closer and closer to the classroom with each passing budget and failed override, the teachers of Arizona can only hold back the assault for so long before it starts to reach the students.
You, my students, are ten and eleven years old and have never been to a fully funded school in Arizona. This entire generation of children has over $1 billion dollars of education that was never provided to them. I will be part of the solution. This is personal.
So why do I have to leave you? Because you are my priority.