First up – Is an increase of $241.07 per student really so historic?

This is my reaction to the recent OpEd written by Mayor Walsh and Superintendent Chang. In it, Mayor Walsh highlights the new challenges facing the school district and the unprecedented financial support he has allocated to the school system. Given inflation, that should come as no surprise to him or taxpayers. Every year, assuming growth, costs rise. Some years they may rise further than others but if we are growing as a city, increased expenses are part of the equation. He also states that he has allocated an unprecedented 1.1 billion dollars including 13.5 million more than last year towards education. If my math is correct, that is approximately $241.07 per student. He also fails to acknowledge it is smaller increase than previous years, that Boston’s education budget as percentage of the city’s budget is smaller than approximately 60% of other cities and towns in Boston and that across the state, public education accounts for, on average 53% of town budget allocations. For a detailed analysis: http://publicschoolmama.com/2015/12/29/lets-crunch-some-numbers-and-take-a-look-at-that-billion-dollar-bps-budget/#more-339.

As a citizen of Boston for over 20 years, I am concerned about the policies being prioritized as well as the tenor of communication coming out of Mayor Walsh’s office. Mayor Walsh continues to claim that he wants to work with students and parents but at every turn, discredits our understanding of the impact this budget will have, diminishes our advocacy for our children as “screaming” and obfuscates the details of his decisions in a flurry of PR and spin in an effort to discourage discourse

I am a parent of a 9th grader at Boston Arts Academy. She chose Boston Arts Academy over any other school in the Boston area – including exam schools and private schools. We are fortunate that she has options. After evaluation her options, she chose a BPS school. I highlight this because Mayor Walsh and other supporters of choice seem to believe, for student and parents who make a choice, it is always to opt out of a district school.

This is not the case with our family nor is it the case with countless other students and families that have spoken up on behalf of their schools over the past two months. It is not the case for the families of the thousands of kids waiting for a k1 or K2 spot to open in BPS. It was not the case with the 3,600 students, of which my daughter was one, who walked out of their schools in protest of the impact the cuts were going to have on their future. They did not walk out in support of lifting the cap charter seats or transferring the cuts to the students in the k-8 schools. They walked out in support of addressing a budget gap that is impacting 56,000 kids in Boston.

Besides the lack of transparency with regards to information coming from Mayor Walsh’s office, both Mayor Walsh and Gov Baker are steadfast in their decision to support one “choice” for parents – expanding charter seats, over improving the systemic issues – both infrastructure and administration, that are plaguing BPS. Charter seats benefit a disproportionately small number of students at the expense of a quality education for the majority of the kids in this city.  This is designed to pit parent against parent in their advocacy efforts for their own children. If Mayor Walsh and Gov. Baker want to advocate for more charter options, they are entitled to do so. It would seem that they should first do the following 1) figure out the funding issues so that public school systems across the state aren’t decimated 2) ensure that all schools are evaluated with similar metrics based on similar student populations 3) work with students, parents and staff in the public systems to determine how best to meet the needs of their student constituents.

The front line faculty and the students especially are better equipped to inform as to what works for them and what doesn’t. We don’t need more commissions, studies, algorithms or education reform experts with little firsthand urban school experience to guide the way.

I am fully in favor of students and parents having choices when it comes to the type of school environment they want for their educational experience. As I’ve learned over the past few months, there are more schools doing excellent work across the city than I realized. For many, the BPS narrative stops with the exam schools and a few elementary schools but digging deeper, there are many schools doing innovate work with amazingly limited resources. #ImagineBoston where these schools were funded as if we were a wealthy suburb or a private school. What could they accomplish? Having spoken with countless families whose children have been failed by both charters and public schools across Greater Boston, there is room for everyone to make accommodations. Both administration and the union need to take a hard look at their positions and determine how best to meet the needs of the children of this city.  Yes, these problems are multifaceted but families in Boston don’t have the luxury of waiting years for these issues to be resolved.

The narrative coming out of Mayor Walsh’s office is both disingenuous and divisive. Mayor Walsh has repeatedly stated that there were not cuts while being fully aware that failing to fund to cover known cost increases would result in cuts in programming and staffing. By failing to even provide level funding, Mayor Walsh is further limiting the ability of schools across the city to provide an adequate, never mind excellent, educational experience to our most vulnerable students. This in turn bolsters the “failing schools narrative” into a reality that drives more parents in to the charter camp. The schools may be failing but it’s not for lack of trying. We as a city, and country are failing our most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps if we as a society can commit to addressing the myriad reasons for pervasive poverty, our public education system wouldn’t have to be such a wide net. If we parse out all the social services the schools provide to ensure that kids are able to participate in school, the BPS budget would be smaller. But given the priority our country currently places on low income, high needs citizens, our schools are the last defense. They deserve to be funded accordingly.

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