I Work At One Of America’s Underfunded Schools. It’s Falling Apart
In my Oklahoma high school classroom, it’s difficult to differentiate between the funding we receive from the state and that from the federal government. Most teachers, myself included, have little understanding of the exact origins of our funding. However, what’s abundantly clear is that our schools are in desperate need of more funding.
Education underfunding has become a common phenomenon, and it’s often unnoticed to those who aren’t a part of the system. My colleagues and I do everything possible to ensure that our students get the education they deserve despite the lack of adequate resources. However, the fact that the consequences of underfunding aren’t apparent doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. It’s the definition of privilege to assume that an issue doesn’t exist simply because it doesn’t affect us.
You’re probably aware of the recent teacher walkout in Oklahoma. Although the march was partly about teacher salaries, it was more about the dire situation in our schools, which results from years of underfunding education.
The Oklahoma City public schools, servicing approximately 46,000 students, is the largest district in our state. Over the past two years, due to relentless decreases in funding from the Oklahoma legislature, our district has had to cut almost $40 million, resulting in 50% slashed fine arts budgets, the total elimination of library media budgets, and districts being forced to end the school year early.
Our education system has 58 split-level classrooms, which means that one teacher has to teach two different curricula to two different grade levels in the same classroom. Our teachers manage to do this without the aid of a teaching assistant. Our school’s infrastructure is another concern; US Grant High School, where I am a proud general, is only ten years old but cannot support the number of students and staff members within its premises.
Classrooms are overcrowded, with 30 and 40 students per class, and some teachers lack enough desks for their students to sit in comfortably. For instance, Coach Aaron McVay, a Physical Education teacher, has had classes of more than 80 students. Intellectual engagement in a class of 80 is unlikely to be achieved. Also, some teachers don’t have classrooms and have to cart their resources around from classroom to classroom.
To our knowledge, textbooks have not been changed in a while. Our current history textbook, for example, The Story of Oklahoma, is so outdated that the Oklahoma City bombing is only mentioned briefly in the epilogue. One student, upon seeing the beat-up and duct-taped textbooks during the walkout, commented that they had not seen textbooks with covers.
It’s vital to note that the cut that most affected us was the elimination of the two maintenance workers, Gerald and Joe. Their elimination was among the cuts necessary when our district lost $30 million in 2017. They ensured that our building was in good condition. Without them, the building seems to be deteriorating. Last August, we had instances where classrooms had no air conditioning, and temperatures would rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit by 9:00 a.m. As a result, it was more convenient for Cristina Moershel, a teacher, to teach outside, where it was cooler, and students sat on the ground.
With this in mind, it’s important to consider how much worse these issues would become if federal funding were to be cut as proposed this year. If federal programs for low-income students or those with disabilities are affected by cuts, what more will our school have to compromise to provide these services? Additionally, how will the cuts affect students’ ability to graduate and thrive in the future?
The most recent appropriations bill passed by Congress has demonstrated progress towards increasing federal funding for education programs. However, there is still a lingering issue of insufficient funding for special education services and Title I programs geared towards impoverished children. It is crucial to note that such decisions make a significant impact on our students’ education. I implore Congress to continue building on last year’s commendable actions, forgo budget cuts to education expenditure, and support our schools with greater funding.
Melissa Smith is an invaluable asset to US Grant High School, assuming the roles of criminal justice teacher, student council adviser, senior class sponsor, and Link Crew coordinator in Oklahoma City. She is also part of the Oklahoma City AFT, a union of teachers who value proper education funding.
To read more riveting perspectives from the American Federation of Teachers, peruse AFT Voices, a blog dedicated to sharing stories about education, teaching, and schools. Take a glance at these engaging links:
– Teaching on inadequate wages: A significant obstacle
– Assisting students dealing with addiction
– The limitations of Title IX in aiding sexual assault victims