An Incomplete Education

As Bill Gates said, “If our public schools were run like a business, they would all be bankrupt.” I agree with the Gates’ assessment of our public school. Our schools are in dire need of serious reform.

Ashish and I do our part to help and support our community as we want it to be a great place to live. It’s not only disappointing to wittiness the system fail, but frustrating as a parent. When it comes to our children, we need to be proactive and do what we feel is best for them. I don’t think that many current school districts have the best interest of the children as a first priority.

I personally wanted to see where our state stands in regard to education- standards and the system that evaluates those standards- so I recently started contacting our representatives for answers. We also are seeking to hear what other parents in our situation have expressed. That is, parents that choose to enroll their children in the private sector because district in which they pay taxes in doesn’t meet academic standards, doesn’t promote an environment conducive for learning and offer progressive opportunities. Which some people may agree or disagree with. We obviously feel strongly about it.

We had friends in last week that are educating their daughter at an excellent Montessori school in the Chicagoland area. It was interesting for me to listen to their experiences in regard to grants, vouchers and contacting their elected officials over the matter. Claire, who is in grade school, has been Montessori educated since pre-school. This year her parents will be paying $10,000 for her academic year. Claire’s parents tried to enroll Clarie in a top notch Chicago Lab School for a 3-week summer school session (ironically the same school Obama’s daughters attend), and it was a little over $1,500 for three weeks. Furthermore, for Nursery School (Half Day) $11,442, Nursery/Kindergarten (Full Day) $16,674, Grades 1 – 4 is $18,492, Grades 5 – 8 is $20,286 and Grades 9 – 12 is $21,480. I would think those numers would be depressing for any ‘average’ or even upper middle class family.

So why have I gotten my soap box out…again? Well, I as a parent, advocate of children and lover of all types of minds, I am seeing more and more of a great divide in our country in regard to education. Those obviously with the means will go to the best schools available, which leaves the rest of the children in less desirable school districts that have administrators, that despite increased funding, can’t manage.

During the 2008-09 school year, our district will receive $8,257 per student in general education revenue from state and local sources, compared with a statewide average of $9,063. State funding is $7,436 per student, compared to a statewide average of $8,182. Referenda revenue totals $821 per student, compared to a state average of $881. After viewing the “general Fund” and summary from our district, I put it in terms that were concrete to me. This means a classroom of 25 kids equals to the amount of $206,425. A Classroom of 30 kids equals to $257,710. Yet, administration can not manage a classroom on that budget and asks for more funds.

Likewise, Ashish and I will not only be paying taxes into the school district in which we live, but we will be paying a tuition fee of $6,000 for 9-months, Monday through Friday, 3 hours a day, toward a Montessori pre-school. This, of course, doesn’t include a $200 material fee, $50 application fee, active participation and volunteering in the community, supplies, etc.

Ashish and I wish there was a grant, voucher or tax break for those that take their children out of district to educate them. This doesn’t mean that people still wouldn’t pay taxes to the district, however there could be a percentage applied to the district of choice and parents would be responisble to make up the difference. I know we are not alone when I say that we are don’t want the government to tell us how our children should be educated. We also don’t want to subscribe to the idea that our current school district is good enough, “will do” or hope and pray that things will be okay and work out fine.

I for one, was educated in a mediocre public school. If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for our children, right? Wrong. Having worked in both private (Montessori) environments and public, I know there is a distinct difference. Public school with it’s ‘quick to label’ system (remember, the more labels a school has- ESL, LD, even gifted, mean the more funds it receives) of over-crowded classrooms and low-expectations is not what we want to subject our children to.

Learning is a natural process- enrollment in school should be a natural one too. This is our new quest. To seek answers about education in our state and push for freedom of choice- whether that be private, public or home based. This doesn’t mean that we judge people accordingly as to how they choose to educate their children- as we hope you don’t ‘judge’ us. It simply means that this is something that is important to us…

Some things I have since learned:
When children reach the ages of the K-12 system, Minnesota’s education tax credit and deduction provides limited help to families, as do Aids to Nonpublic Students that help offset some costs related to transportation, textbooks and counseling.

Once of kindergarten age, the state also has extensive school choice options that open up many public options to your family outside your resident borders for no charge. Many such options will require you to provide transportation however.

Legislation in some states has created tax breaks for contributions to scholarship funds that can then be awarded to help fund educational expenses for families in both traditional private schools and in public school programs where fees or tuition is charged. In Minnesota, the advocacy group that has taken a lead in advocating for such legislation is the Minnesota Independent School Forum.