Hello everyone, I’m Wally. For most of my school life I’ve been in a district that can’t even afford a proper lunchroom.
You may think that sounds strange, but for me, it’s reality. I never questioned the lack of resources available to me--I thought it was normal.
Here’s a list of a few regular occurrences in my school I pegged as normal:
Using one small room as a gymnasium, lunchroom, and auditorium
Not having a music class
Only being able to use instruments that my teacher could afford to buy us
Not having access to any transportation
Using a small closet for a library
Reading 10-year-old books in that closet
Using broken desks, chairs, and ripped books
I should also mention that I am currently a student in one of Michigan’s charter districts, not Detroit’s traditional district. (I say traditional because charter schools are also public schools who receive the same funding, they just use that funding differently.) A lot of people assume that charter schools are better, but from my experience, that’s not necessarily true. Eventually I realized that my experience isn’t normal, and it’s only my reality because of how poorly education is funded in my state. My inadequate and inequitable education is a direct result of inadequate and inequitable funding.
I know that I’ve used “lack of resources/ inadequate/inequitable funding” a lot, and you may be wondering what that means. By lack of resources, I mean old textbooks, permanent substitutes (who are not always the most qualified and sometimes are little more than babysitters), technology that isn’t updated, and other things that hold students back from being educated to their fullest potential. By inadequate funding, I mean not dedicating enough of the state’s money to schools and leaving them with the lack of resources I mentioned before. By inequitable funding, I mean not basing that adequate funding on the needs of each individual community. Every state has their own funding formula, and I recently discovered from a Michigan State University study that Michigan has the least improved total education revenue growth. Actually, Michigan is ranked 50th out of all 50 states in school funding growth.
My school experience is a direct result of the conditions that data reflects. The way Michigan schools look are a consequence of the inadequate ways the state funds schools. Still, many Michiganders believe that the way to solve this problem is to implement more “choice,” blaming traditional public schools for issues often out of their control. Since charter schools ARE public schools, I can confidently say that ALL Michigan public schools suffer from this lack of funding. You may not think you’re affected, but this issue isn’t isolated to me, my city, or even my state. Lack of adequate funding is an issue for everyone who claims to care about education, and honestly--even those who don’t. Lack of education contributes to people not being able to find jobs that pay enough to meet their needs and jobs not being able to find workers who meet theirs. This can lead to people resorting to crime and jobs going elsewhere to find workers. Not funding schools affects all of us--the teachers, the students, the parents, the communities. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. US.
Like I said, Michigan’s funding isn’t up to par. Here’s the tea:
Professor David Arsen, and graduate students Tanner Delpier, and Jesse Nagel from Michigan State University analyzed national trends in funding over the last quarter century
Michigan was rated 50th out of all 50 states in school funding growth since 1995
Funding for education in Michigan has dropped 30% from 2002 to 2015
Funding for at-risk students has fallen 60% per-pupil in Michigan
Because the state underfunds special education, oftentimes individual districts have to redirect $500 per general education student to make up for the difference
Michigan schools will not improve without a new funding equation that funds schools “equitably, adequately, and efficiently”
This data really proved to me something I had already known--my school is severely underfunded and this issue isn’t an isolated one. They’re all too normal in many schools in Black and brown neighborhoods around this country, and that’s just wrong. Other students, in better funded districts, don’t struggle with things that I do, they’ve actually INCREASED their funding while ours has dropped. I’m obviously not a priority in Michigan when my education isn’t even worth the funding we once had? Maybe, if we didn’t spend so much money on things like prisons, which drain state budgets and do little to actually help, we could raise the $3.7 billion necessary to fund our schools.
Michigan students struggle to learn without the proper resources to do so, and this won’t stop until the state invests in our education.
In 482Forward, the group that I organize with, we choose an issue within our schools to build a campaign around each year. Last year, we built our campaign around understanding the lack of resources in schools, and how we as students can organize to demand better. During the campaign we surveyed our peers, met with school board members and the superintendent, and worked hard to decide how to move forward. By the summer, we had planned and executed our action--an “UnResource fair”. The UnResource fair was our way to present our research to the public, share the experiences of students through art like, poetry, paintings, and song, and take action to help fix that issue. It was really fun and informative. we invited every school board member, the superintendent, every charter-school authorizer in the state, and all the gubernatorial candidates. In the end, three school board members (including the board president!) attended the event. They even committed to working further with students on participatory budgeting and potentially getting a student on Detroit’s school board!
This event really showed me the importance of organizing. It was a way to have my voice heard and to speak out on all the issues my peers and I face. 482Forward is working hard with groups across the state to fight for the bigger issue, the $3.7 billion dollars our students need to succeed--but we can’t do it alone. Crumbling schools, bathrooms without doors, decade-old textbooks, and cold classrooms shouldn’t be my norm. I am valuable and my education should be valued. Funding schools adequately and equitably is the first step to achieving that, and it’s something we all have to figure out if we truly care about equitable education everywhere.
Join the fight: babiesoverbillionaires.org
Until next time! -Wally
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