While North County school districts received a small degree of relief with last month’s state budget figures that announced a $602 million reinstatement of the state aid that school officials say is crucial to maintaining education programs for their students, and an overall fund increase of $1.1 billion, we feel as if more needs to be done to explore more creative ways of bridging the budget shortfalls that continue to plague districts.
Reach out to alumni. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that the North Country is hemorrhaging young people as they leave the region in droves for higher education and career paths outward. A crucial argument underpinning the need to keep districts intact is that they’ve fostered collective senses of shared schematic experience; of a group identity; of experiences that have shaped young minds into the adults they are today. If their salad days have played such a crucial role in their development, then it bears to reason that graduates who’ve fanned across the globe wouldn’t mind kicking in some coin to ensure that those who follow in their footsteps are ensured the same priceless experiences.
Look outward. Make use of the federal F-1 visa program that requires foreign students to pay tuition to study at American high schools. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of F-1 students at American high schools increased tenfold, and the number is only set to increase as formerly insular countries across the Middle East and Asia begin to realize the value of globalization. But despite our gregarious and welcoming nature, America has an odd, often contradictory and politicized viewpoint towards immigration and if our rural school districts want to remain intact, they need to capitalize on the legions of international learners who view the American education system as the juicy apple towards future sustainability and want nothing more to learn English and the soft cultural skills required to catapult themselves onto the global playing field.
Break the unions. Districts complain that rising costs are due to state mandates that they just can’t skirt. While we respect the invaluable role that many educators play in shaping young minds, we’d like to think they’re no more special than the panoply of professionals who also contribute to young development — from scientists to athletes to Mom and Dad — and we advocate for a merit-based system, not a corrupt feeding trough. Break their ironclad grip and level the playing field. We’re revoking your hall pass and placing you on academic suspension.
Corporate sponsorships. Let’s be realistic — if you’re facing the decision to either close your doors and tuition out your students and accepting a bit of corporate lucre, we’d like to think you’re practical enough to make a reasonable decision. Educational facilities aren’t sacrosanct and should be allowed to open themselves up to a bidding process for corporate sponsorship. Naturally, this should be accompanied by strong safeguards to ensure the curriculum isn’t compromised and corporate influence be limited to somewhat innocuous areas like athletic team and meal sponsorship, contracts with tech firms and other win-win situations that rise all boats.
Paid classes. Taxes are a touchy issue and we all balk at increases in the levy. But that doesn’t mean that individual parents aren’t willing to fork over a bit more cash to ensure their kids receive an academic boost. If auxiliary classes are framed in a different lens —not as a tax levy, but rather as a choice between a year’s worth of weekend trips to the mall and, say, classes that will give kids a leg up during the collegiate application process — then we’d like to think that a total overhaul of how electives are conceptualized, implemented and executed could mark a new golden dawn in progressive education.
Cut more. We’re going to be blunt, like the school nurse who slathers iodine over that skinned knee at recess: More can be slashed away. Get rid of supply budgets entirely, for example, and go after corporate sponsorships to supply your paper, your pens and the other materials you need to disseminate your information. Go paperless or see if manufacturers like International Paper are willing to donate materials for some good PR. Join forces with other districts for bulk purchasing. Outsource extras like plays and class trips to private volunteers or civic organizations. There are always creative solutions to insurmountable problems. And when the fate of an entire generation of young North Country leaders are at stake, we expect nothing less.