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Budget Affects Blacks

Special Note: I desperately wanted to attend the recent School Committee meeting and lend my voice to an alarming school budget crisis facing our district.  Unfortunately, I was committed otherwise.  However, there is a perspective yet to be considered, and I feel a responsibility to share it.


School Budget Crisis Affects Students of Color

Rev. Jaron S. Green

Recently, after entrusting the Superintendent of Schools and School Committee with formulating a budget to finance an excellent education for the next generation of undeniable thought leaders, inventors, researchers, physicians, financiers, global professionals, and citizens of moral character, the city requested the School Committee to cut the planned budget of $33.3M to $27.4M.  The result would require staffing cuts for the next year, stretching school administrators, teachers, specialists and support staff, already stretched too thin, to new limits.  This city currently has the lowest per-student expenditure in our region, ranks number 314 out of 323 school districts in Massachusetts for teacher compensation (bottom 10%), and cannot retain experienced leaders in our schools due to low salaries.  Our children deserve more.


Even more alarming is how a school budget crisis affects students of color and inherently becomes social justice concern.  The familiar platitude, “When White America has a cold, Black America has the flu” holds true in all instances, and by every relevant statistical measure.  Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr. stated of certain crises, that it’s “more like the symptoms of a national congenital disease than the flu.”  Although there are 23 times more White neighbors than any other other race or ethnicity in our fair city, there exists a community of color, of foreign-born citizens, of folk whose first language isn’t English, and yes, of beautiful Black people.  These families of color from our city have children that attend our schools.  In addition, our school district participates in the Metco program, the nation’s longest running voluntary desegregation busing program.  The Metco program is a state-funded grant program that promotes diversity and educational opportunity for more than 3,300 Boston and Springfield school students, as well as thousands of students in the Metco receiving school districts.  It was created to eliminate racial imbalance in attendance.  Cost:  $19,383,542.  Our city is enriched by 125 additional students of color from urban communities.


Historically speaking.  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was working diligently to challenge segregation laws in public schools in the early 1950s.  A plaintiff named Oliver Brown filed a class-action suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1951, after his daughter, Linda Brown (pictured right, who recently died, March 25, 2018), was denied entrance to Topeka’s all-white elementary schools.  Represented by Thurgood Marshall, Brown’s lawsuit claimed that schools for black children were not equal to the white schools.  In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. Brown v. Board of Education became one of the cornerstones of the Civil Rights movement, and helped establish by precedent that “separate but equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all.


We know from his own writing and witness, W.E.B. DuBois attended integrated schools in Massachusetts in the late 1800s.  He recorded the awful experiences he endured, and how he chose to overcome the challenges he faced.  Massachusetts has historically been considered a leader in school integration.  However, Massachusetts has regressed over the last two decades as its students of color have experienced intensifying school segregation and racial and social justice issues.  Our city isn’t battling public restrooms, transportation, drinking fountains, and restaurant concerns.  Today, social justice in education concerns three questions: whom do we teach, what do we teach, and how do we teach, so says Sharon Stoll, the director of the Center for ETHICS (Ethical Theory and Honor in Competition and Sports) at the University of Idaho.  


To be clear, a budget crisis affects Black students differently.  Stretching school administrators, teachers, specialists and support staff is dangerous.  It causes dissent between philosophy and pedagogy.  Good and well-meaning teachers, overworked, underpaid, undervalued, under stress and duress, will act upon inherent and implicit biases.  These teachers, with little to no influence over school budget decisions, or in determining professional development content, or in establishing curriculum at their schools, are charged with educating students at expert levels.  However, when beaten by increased demands and fewer resources to meet said demands, holes in their expertise are revealed.  For example, discipline practices in school affect the quality of educational environment, and the ability of children to achieve academic and social gains.  However, African American families are 2.19 (elementary school) to 3.78 (middle school) times as likely to be referred to the office for problem behavior as their White peers.  Even worse, African American and Latino families are more likely than their White peers to receive expulsion or out of school suspension as consequences for the same or similar problem behavior.  Why?  School officials tend to view the behaviors of White and Asian American students as non-threatening.  Is a city or school district in financial crisis adept to address the companion consequences of such conceivable and imminent disparities?


In schools across America, and right here in our city, social justice must seek to promote high achievement among the most disadvantaged.  Practices that affect the educational environment and the ability of children to achieve academic and social gains must be addressed, including financing an excellent education.  All of our children deserve more.  My pursuit is to affect change in how we teach, educate, counsel, train and empower others with like passion for the improvement of the community and minority populations.  As neighbors, we must answer with our educators, whom do we teach, what do we teach, and how do we teach.  In the midst of a school budget crisis, how will we engage in the work of social justice in the community?  How will we explore parent and volunteer engagement, promote achievement, increase motivation, instill work ethic, meet special needs, and manage behavior?  How will we impact measurable change?


As financial experts tackle budgetary issues, in addition to lending your voice, parents and concerned neighbors can help cultivate positive relationships within school communities in the district.  Helping an educator feel appreciated and supported can mean the difference between daylight and sunset.  Positive cultures are built intentionally, not mistakenly, or by default.  Better served educators better serve students.  Constructive conversations can help tackle difficult topics, build character, and facilitate awareness on how all issues affect individuals and groups similarly, yet differently.  Have a conversation, and in that conversation, commit to listening.  As our city is committed to being a community open to all, our educators are included, as well as all of our students of color.  The school budget is an education issue, a community issue, a moral issue, and a social justice issue.  But, experience is what students of color will remember and walk away with for eternity.  How will you affect change?


“Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education” – Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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