A couple of weeks ago voters went to the polls to decide about education in Clallam County. Not all the school districts voted but several did. Some passed. Some didn’t. What difference did it make?
We know that when our children are successful in school they are more likely to be successful in life. When children fail in school they become less sufficient economically which costs all of us more money.
We are talking about two issues when we discuss the problems of children not succeeding in school. First children need to come to school with certain skills. These are skills that include reading books, talking together, learning about the environment around them, and mastering basic skills about dealing with other people including other children.
Too many low income families and many others in Clallam County enter kindergarten unprepared. That means they lack the basic, age-expected social-emotional development and the language and math skills required to succeed. We need to deal with this problem which impacts the success of children throughout our county and far beyond.
The second issue that determines a child’s success is the education they receive when they enter school. This is the portion of the child’s education that is determined by levy and bond elections.
Levies impact children by determining the quality of the materials they have to work with, the facilities they have, the quality of the teachers who teach them, and the overall educational program that reaches all children in each classroom.
Levies provide money for the education of children from kindergarten through high school. That includes money for teachers, books, libraries, playgrounds and cafeterias.
The first issue involving education before entering public school is that it is no specific agencies responsibility. School districts have very limited involvement in preschool education. Most preschools are privately run and the cost for families can be significant.
Some low income preschools such as Head Start which is federally financed are focused on lower income families but seldom do they reach all the children who are qualified to attend them.
Besides these two options, parents are the other educational avenue for young children. This is an area that First Teacher is trying to help solve. The goal of First Teacher is to educate parents to help them help their children be ready for kindergarten. All the costs of this free program comes from contribution. That is a difficult way to finance a program going to so many parents.
Getting a child ready begins right at birth. Parents who read to their child regularly and who are aware of the many ways to teach a young child can make a significant difference.
At the same time, parents are more likely to be working or have less time to spend with their children.
Without a major commitment, many children will be left out of this essential early learning time. Hopefully in the future, this commitment to our youngest citizens will be assumed by public schools and paid by taxpayers.
Leaving a legacy
Once the child enters kindergarten, there at least is someone responsible for the financial costs of education children. That someone is each of us who pay taxes.
It is easy to think that taxes are too high so we should vote against these levies and bonds but that is a mistake. One way or another we will pay the costs for uneducated, poor people. These people are more likely to need help with cost of living, unemployment, and medical expenses.
Either we help our young people become educated and how to live successfully or we help our older people with their expenses. It costs less to educate our children early than to support families later.
The other evening the news said the growing number of teachers whose pay was so far behind they could not afford to live in the areas they worked in. They were forced to move out of the district to a less expensive area. This needs to be corrected.
The only way we can keep qualified teachers in the classroom is to make sure teachers’ salaries keep up with the cost of living increases. This means voting for levies. We even need to vote for bonds to keep the quality of the schools up. Talking about leaks in roofs or inadequate bathrooms doesn’t convince people to vote for bonds but it should.
You may not have children in school but children need you. You need to make sure our society is equipped to help you as you grow older.
A strong society filled with successful people will make a difference in our future as well as the future of our children.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.