In the news recently was an uproar regarding some comments made by Maine Governor Paul LePage. Apparently, he has warned the Legislature that, if they do not present him with a reasonable budget, he will close schools on May 1. He stated that it was either cut the school year or cut the funds designated for social services.
Now, I'm not supporting or defending LePage. He's said some pretty inflammatory things in the past, and his stance on environmental issues (including his goal of reversing many of the hard-won, pretty hard-nosed, environmental policies that make doing business here, especially with regard to developing "wild" areas, very difficult) isn't going to win him any points with me, but on this one thing, I think I have to agree with him ... and one can't even begin to imagine how hard it is for me to say that!
It's not that he's trying to take things away from Maine's citizens, but when one figures that 80% of the State's budget goes to fund education and social services, it's a no-brainer that cuts are going to have to come from one of those two areas.
As LePage stated, there's no money, and unlike the Federal government, our state government "can't just print more" (which, of course, is just a silly, over-simplification of the issue, and similar such off-the-cuff comments will prove to be LePage's legacy, because the Feds can't really "just print more", either). His point, though, is valid: we can't simply keep funding things for which there is no money.
The problem is that no one wants to give up, even a tiny portion, of his piece of the pie. No one wants his program cut. So, my question for those who are railing against these proposed cuts is, Are *you* willing to pay more (in taxes) to fund those programs you insist must be funded?, and of course, the answer will always be no.
No one wants to let go of any of their programs, but no one wants to raise taxes to keep them funded, either.
A long time ago, Deus Ex Machina and I realized one thing when it comes to our finances: if we wanted to have more money, we could either work more to earn more money OR we could spend less money than we make. We have opted to cut expenses, and some of the ways we've done so, have raised a few eyebrows, because they are unconventional - like getting rid of the television and the clothes dryer.
The government equivalent would be to increase the tax burden or cut programs. Personally, I opt for cutting programs, and I don't think it would be so very difficult to do so. Some very simple changes could save thousands of dollars per year for our government.
We homeschool, and while it's not an option most folks are willing to explore, I submit that our state and our communities could save a significant amount of money by implementing a different sort of school day. The fastest and easiest way to start would be to reduce the amount of time children are physically *in* school to only one or two days a week. The other days the children could be doing lessons virtually. Think of it as telecommuting for kids.
Here in Maine, every eighth grade, publicly-schooled student (and I wanted to make the distinction so that people would understand that homeschooled children are not eligible for the laptop program - or many other supplementary educational programs offered to public school kids - even though homeschooling parents still pay their fair share of taxes to support public education) is given a laptop computer. It was one of the last programs Governor Angus King signed into law, and while I think it's a waste of money in its current incarnation, if the State were to take advantage of the program to implement a virtual school program, it would make providing those laptops useful for saving thousands of dollars per year paid out for education.
The most obvious savings would be in fuel costs. If kids were only bussed to school two days a week, for instance, it would save $100s in the cost of fuel to operate the busses.
And different grade levels could have different days off, or have staggered school times. So, maybe Monday and Tuesday would be elementary days, and Wednesday and Thursday would be junior high days, and Friday and Saturday would be high school days. They could all use the same building, instead of having three different building for each grade group. There would be a significant savings on building maintenance and upkeep.
Support staff would automatically be cut by one-third, which would save thousands in salary and benefits costs paid out.
It's true that no one wants to cut jobs, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for anyone losing his/her job, but if those extra school buildings ere repurposed for private use and then opened to the public, the "public school" employees might still be employed, but on a private level.
What if, for instance, the lunchroom was franchised by a restaurant chain and the lunchroom staff was hired to work in the restaurant?
What if those old buildings were turned into community centers (with a cafeteria??) where classroom space could be rented by the public?
As a homeschooler, one of our biggest challenges is finding a space to hold our classes. A community center would give us that space, but it would provide space for other groups, too. Right now, I'm working on securing space to have an out-of-state speaker come to Maine, but finding a place where he could speak will be a challenge.
And today, I received a call from a young woman who is looking for a person to officiate over her upcoming wedding. She wanted to know if I knew of any places to hold the ceremony. I don't, but if our former school buildings were still owned by the town and then repurposed into a community center with space that any citizen could rent, it would not only provide much needed space, but would also generate some income for the community without burdening those who don't benefit from those programs.
Or, maybe, we could repurpose the old school buildings into retail spaces. Imagine, the old high school turned into a shopping mall. What a hoot that would be! And, if the Town retains ownership of the property that would be revenue for the Town.
There is no evidence that requiring children to be physically present in a classroom for six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year results in a better educated populace. In fact, the opposite seems to be more true, as, statistically, homeschooled children out-perform their peers in almost every area from academics to arts and all of the categories in between.
In a society in which we are finding ourselves more financially pinched than ever, it makes sense to think up some real, cost-saving solutions. Reducing the size and scope of our education system just makes good sense, and changing from a requirement that everyone be physically present for x hours a year to allowing them to telecommute part-time would save thousands of dollars over the course of a school year.
I know that children don't require formal lessons or classrooms or even textbooks to learn. I know, because my children are learning - mostly without any of those things.
Today, they were doing math and writing.
No textbooks. No tests. No desks. No bells to change classes. No getting up before the sun to catch a bus on a cold, rainy morning.
And no extra burden to taxpayers to transport, house, feed, and educate 180 days a year.