Public School Budget Cuts. What Should a Parent Do?

Last Tuesday evening, a special PTO meeting was called. A representative from our school district came to speak about next year’s budget. Sadly, only 13 parents, including me, showed up.

I knew the budget situation was bad. In December, they cut this year’s budget the first time. It meant cutting back on buying supplies for the rest of the year. So we’ve been receiving monthly newsletters on pink paper, instead of white. No big deal. The next budget cuts happened in March. I believe 5 days were cut from the school year. Three of them were days students attend school.

Next year is worse. Much worse. Next year’s budget for our school district is expected to fall somewhere between 2.9 million and 4.8 million short of the current year’s initial budget (before the December and March cuts). The district representative gave us a picture of what kind of cuts would have to be made to achieve the worse case budget scenario:

  • 47 school days cut OR
  • 80-94 Teachers cut OR
  • 20% of the eligible budget cut (supplies, etc)

We were told that next year they’re looking at a variety of scenarios, including going to a 4 day school week (but keeping the length of the school year), going to a shorter school day, or going to a shorter school year. Regardless of what happens, our district will be below the 180 days required to meet educational standards.

As a parent, I’m not happy about this, obviously. I take issue with a state government that funds education last instead of first, when they meet to discuss the budget. I take issue with a school district that spent it’s buffer down to 2% of the budget, when the recommended buffer is 5-8% of the budget. They banked on the fact that the 2009-2011 biennium was supposed to be a banner year for the school budget. They were wrong, and now the kids will pay the price.

Most importantly, I’m not happy with the education (or lack thereof) that my children would get next year. I know the teachers would do their best. We’ve had extremely good experiences with all the public school teachers my children have had. They go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my kids get the education they need.

But there comes a point where I worry that even the most brilliant and dedicated teachers can’t make up for increasing class sizes and decreasing school hours. And I’m not sure I want my children to be guinea pigs in such a dismal school situation.

So that leaves me with a dilemma. I have three choices. I can continue to send my children to public school, praying for the best. It goes without saying that I would be involved in their schools. I already am.

I could homeschool. I’d obviously have to work out a schedule to where I could teach school, keep up the house, and keep up this blog (being as my blog pays some of the bills and helps us pay down debt). Fortunately my husband gets home shortly after lunch and could pitch in, if we went this direction.

We could send our kids to private school, if we can work out the finances. It would be difficult, as it would cost about $800 a month for both kids to go to the local Christian school. Again, I’d be involved in the school. But the amount of money spent on school would take a serious bite out of our debt repayment plans, if we can swing it at all.

After much thought and prayer this week, I know which direction I’m leaning, though no firm decisions have been made. My husband is on the same page. But I’m not going to tell you, because I think hashing out the decision makes for a good discussion. :) I promise to let you know when we’ve made a final decision.

What would you do, if you were me? And if you know a public school teacher, tell them you appreciate them. All schools are going through hard times right now, and it’s especially stressful to be a teacher.

Photo by calculatOr.



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By , on Apr 27, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{66 Comments}

  1. Danielle:

    I’m getting my Ph.D in education right now, and like Meg said, this is a FAR from isolated case.

    My sentiment–given that your children have already established set routines in the public school system, transitioning rapidly from pub school to homeschool would be a shock–and too much time would be spend on the ‘adjustment’ phase than on the learning.

    Because of this, I would keep the children in public school for the year, and supplement teach at home. This would not only allow the kids to transition into homeschooling, but it would also enable you to get accustomed with various curriculum, learning styles, and the behind-the-scenes work of being a teacher. What would also help this transition time for you would be to partner with your children’s teachers and find out what lessons they’re doing & where they’re headed. You can easily do supplemental readings, assignments, field trips, and other activities to provide more academic opportunities with your children.

    During this transition year, you can then focus on the more important decisions–homeschool 100%, public school 100%, private school 100%, or continue a combination approach.

    Also, if you’re around a university, don’t hesitate to look into their department/school of education. There are probably going to be lots of BA/MA/Ph.D. students looking for opportunities to work as a tutor or provide curriculum assistance.

    And last, but not least–don’t forget prayer. Proverbs 3:6.

    Hope that helps! Blessings!

  2. vigilant20:

    Since you’re home anyway, homeschooling is definitely the option I’d choose. It really doesn’t take as much of your time as you’d think. I went to a little Church school that used homeschool curriculum and it was all self-taught. We didn’t have teachers, just a couple monitors to keep us out of trouble.

  3. I don’t have kids myself; however, in this situation I’d vote for private school. My issue with home school is the socialization factor. Part of the point to going to school is to have children exposed to a variety of thoughts and styles to broaden their horizons. I realize that sometimes that includes both good and bad, but on the whole, it’s more beneficial to children to have that socialization experience. The other issue I have is that 9 times out of 10, the parents doing the teaching aren’t really qualified to teach. I don’t mean you specifically, Lynnae, I’m just speaking in generalities. I think the child’s education is more important than the parents’ indignation for whatever they’re usually pulling the child out of school for. But, in your case, I see the appeal of pulling them out of public school.

    But, since private school is a bit more costly, I understand that it can be a drain on your resources. Have you looked into the possibility of tuition assistance programs? Perhaps there are programs available in your area that would not require you to drain your savings, or place your debt repayment on hold.

  4. kath:

    I was going to suggest what several others did – If you like the school, keep them in public school and do supplemental work at home. That’s what we did with our kids when they were in public elementary schools. It wasn’t that the schools were bad, they had excellent ratings and we really liked the elementary schools. Junior high was the breaking point for us. The local Junior high had over 1000 students and one of the teachers even told us on back-to-school night that unless the child was a behavior problem, they may not immediately recognize the name if we called him about their grades or other issues because they taught several hundred students each day. The classrooms were crowded and my sons weren’t the type to speak up if they didn’t understand something, so I worked with them at home. Once they reached high school (an even bigger school), we bit the bullet and sent them to the local Catholic high school. It took a huge bite out of our budget and a lot of juggling to do it, but it was worth every penny. They received an excellent education in smaller classes. Yes, it was a really big financial burden at the time, but we considered it an investment. And that was fine – for us. I would never pass judgment on the decisions that anyone would make regarding their children’s education. Each of us needs to decide what is the best arrangement for our families and how much their budget can tolerate. Just because this worked for my family doesn’t mean it would be the right decision for someone else.

  5. Lynnae:

    @boomeyers – I’m fortunate to live in a state where there aren’t a lot of regulations for homeschoolers. I basically have to notify the district of my intent to homeschool and have them tested every few years with standardized tests. If they test above the 15th percentile, we’re good to go. No attendance, no required curriculum (until high school), and I don’t even think all districts require to see copies of the tests!

    If I were to homeschool though, I’d probably go with a prepackaged curriculum for the first year, just because the planning aspect overwhelms me. It would be spendy, but not as spendy as private school.

  6. Heather:

    Wow. Ugh. Sorry you have to deal with this, but I think it is going to be a much more common dilemma as time goes on.

    My kids have never gone to private school, but have been both homeschooled and gone to public school. I really like the idea the first commenter had of doing both. If that is not an option – I would definitely homeschool. People think homeschooling takes up a whole day like public school does, but in my experience you can accomplish so much more in a shorter period of time.

    There are some really exceptional homeschool programs out there as well, that allow you to teach several children the same information on different levels.

    Hope God gives you the wisdom to make the best decison for your family.

  7. Boomeyers:

    We are facing the same things in Missouri.
    As for homeschooling, I think you would be surprised. (We tried it when my daughter was younger). Since you work from home, you may find your time seriously undermined. You have to plan lessons and correct homework, field trips, lunch, etc… Plus, there is the factor of regulations from the state on what you should teach them for the year, and books you must buy to teach them from. I went to school for elem. ed. and it still didn’t prepare me for teaching my own child successfully. If you think about this option, you may want to “trial” teach over the summer and see how it goes.
    As for the private school, perhaps you could get a part time job at the school to help defray costs. Even a lunch lady or playground assistant. Plus, you would get the “multi child discount”.
    If your children are relatively happy in public school and do not suffer from learning disabilities, I would send them next year and see how it goes, staying closely involved and helping in the classroom as much as possible. You can help your childs teacher find free and cheap ways to get supplies and help them correct papers and etc…
    Looking forward to seeing what you decide!

  8. I see some of the other commenters have already picked up on the hybrid approach I would suggest and pretty much did with my daughter.

    It would be difficult, even when budgets are not so tight, to find any one school that 100 percent fits all of your child’s or your family’s educational needs and interests. So what you need to do is find the school that is the best fit from the choices that are practical and available to you, and make up for what it’s missing.

    You can do this through activities like 4-H, scouts, community theater, community orchestra, summer camp on science topics, religion class, etc. Even those who homeschool in my area sign their children up for community education foreign language classes and parks and recreation nature shows.

  9. Denise:

    I am a single mother, sole provider. I work full time and homeschool. If you want to do it badly enough it is possible and wonderful. We are involved in sooo many things and I think my daughter is the one who is winning with this deal. My daughter was in a private Christian school from Pre-K through 3rd when I pulled her out. The money was a minor factor in the decision, but socially it was not the entitlement mentality that I wanted her socialized. You can do it!

  10. Lisa:

    This is our situation as well. We live in a school district where we have excellent, well paid teachers (who on average make more than the median income in our suburb) but the schools themselves are crumbling around them. My oldest will go to a middle school next year that has duct tape holding the ceiling together, faulty wiring which caused a power outage for a week, and crumbling brick hallways. Our suburb has voted 3 times NOT to build a new school or fund repairs.

    It’s very sad. The only Christian school is in a wealthy area 5 miles from our home and is $600 per month per child – we have 3. I want to homeschool but DH is dead set against it as I would have to quit work.

    I wish Obama would spend some of that TARP money putting the out of work home builders to work building schools.

  11. I think I would have to go the homeschooling route. I’ve actually been seriously considering this myself for my children. I have a 5 year old that will be starting kindergarten in the fall and our schools here don’t have very good educational ratings. We do have Christian schools here but I just don’t think I can stomach paying out that kind of money for tuition. I hope all goes well with whichever route you choose to take.

  12. Your school district would not be allowed to go to less than 180 days; to do so they would be in violation of the law. Nor can they shorten it to less than a certain length depending on your state’s requirements. If your district cannot fix the budget by other means, then your state would take over the district.

  13. Geeeeessshhhh. What a position to be put in.

    We pulled our oldest out of public school and finished him up at home. His highschool was on-line with lots of grading by me also. Worked wonderful for us. I wanted to put him in private school — but it could not be pulled off on our income.

    Second child homeschooled for a year and wanted back in public…where she has stayed and flourished.

    I’m all for whatever works for your family dynamics. And it doesn’t have to be across the board. One kid can be doing one while another is doing something different. And even better….you can change your mind if its not working out. It’s not a lock solid decision that you can’t change (although there are steps that usually have to be taken first).

    Good luck. I hope you figure out the best solution for your family and transition well.

  14. Broke Diva in DC:

    I know I don’t have any children… so my opinion on this is a little limited… but my mom had a similar dilemma with me when I was in school (first through 3rd grades). She chose to home school me during that time and I’m convinced that is why I was always well ahead in reading and writing (I scored perfect on my GRE’s in the writing area for grad school + I publish academic articles now). She knew her limits though, and during that time of homeschooling she knew I’d eventually need to go back to a regular school environment. So during that time I was homeschooled she saved for the private school I eventually went to for 3rd + grade. Back then (not sure how it is now) a child had to take tests to get into private school- and I outscored all of the other traditional students.
    So I say do homeschool- not forever- but maybe for a year or two… and take it as an opportunity to have your children exceed other students in their grade levels! Good luck!

  15. Angie:

    Unbelievable. Looks like we’re definitely turning back to more simple times, like it or not. I have been wanting to homeschool for years now and would if it wasn’t for dear husband’s views on this. I’m wondering if that’s the route you’ll be going.

  16. I like the idea of the first commenter’s ‘hybrid’ approach, but in reality, I know that I’m not patient enough to be my children’s teacher. Private school would be our decision, even if we had to take on debt. What a shame that you have to make this decision.

  17. Sheila:

    When we moved to Colorado, we initially had put our kids in public school. They had been in public school before. In the time they were in public school here, I watched my kids tests scores decrease, my younger child start to cry over having to go to the ‘reading program’ they have here (there are many non-English speaking here), and my 4th grade daughter in the gifted and talented program brought home a math sheet that included ’1+0′. My kids were at the time adamantly opposed to home schooling (although I have worked on them understanding it better now and they have changed their minds) and I work part-time, so we looked at the local private Christian schools. We are now finishing up the second year there and all I can say is “WOW, what a difference!”. My kids both say that they never want to go back to public school again. Please note that we had never even considered private school before the issues here, so we are not in any way private school snobs. It wasn’t even anything we had ever considered. My kids say that if they can’t do private school, they would rather homeschool. Please note too, that a decision like this certainly isn’t one we would leave up to our kids, but I’m just repeating what they have said. This is just our experience. Even the much better public school we were in before wasn’t as good as the one they are in now.

  18. Lynnae:

    @DDFD – Legally they can go below 180 days for 1 year. More than that, and the district is in big trouble. Which makes you wonder how they’re going to handle the 2010-2011 school year, since the budget is generally set 2 years at a time…

    I’m loving the comments! Keep ‘em coming!

  19. Di:

    I would send them to public school and teach them after school. I’ve always done this and it has worked out very well. I’m a single mom, have been for years, work full time and have two children. My son will be a math teacher in the fall and my daughter is 13.

    I honestly don’t believe in private schooling. I have worked in the private sector for over 30 years and people who are publically schooled seem to play much better than others. I’m sorry, and people will disagree with me and that’s fine, but that’s been my observation.

  20. womanofthehouse:

    I’d choose homeschooling too. Given the circumstances, it’s the best financial choice and probably the best educational choice too. You can accomplish more education in less time than in a school setting public or private. Homeschooling is far cheaper than private school too. (It’s also much cheaper than public school, but unfortunately you’ll still be paying those school taxes no matter what.) I work part-time, homeschool, and run a clean and organized household, so I understand the challenges you would face accomplishing those three things simultaneously, but it can be done. You seem just like the sort of motivated, organized person who would manage it all very nicely. There is lots of support out there for homeschooling families now. We don’t regret the decision we made to begin homeschooling eight years ago, and I don’t think you will either.

  21. Wow. That’s shocking. I can’t even wrap my brain around a 4-day school week.

    I would do a hybrid approach; I’d keep them in the public school, but I’d also set aside some formal time for additional “home school” time to supplement in the afternoon. That takes some of the pressure off of you (both in terms of the teaching and the whole earning-a-living thing), and still allows you to ensure that they’re learning what they need to learn. It also reduces the shock to their system; going from public school to home school is a HUGE transition.

    Good luck. That’s a tough decision no matter what.

  22. I’d opt for the 20% cut. Keep the people, lose the paper and pencils and such. Yes, materials are VERY important, but time in the classroom with a teacher is more important to me. With the materials the district already owns — books, chalk/white boards, lab materials — educating students can continue. The district needs to be frugal, not crazy!

  23. $800 a month?!!!!! We homeschool two children for far less than $800 a year, and they are very socialized, happy, extremely well adjusted children who are academically and spiritually far above their peers both in public and private Christian schools in our area.

    But you already know how I feel about homeschooling, Lynnae. I’m praying for you as you make this huge decision. Not that you would go the way I prefer, but the way the Lord wants you to decide.

    Julieanne
    http://www.joyinourjourney.com/

  24. Meg:

    This is FAR from an isolated case. Our schools here have been cutting teachers like crazy — 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year teachers, basically anyone without a solid contract. I’ve even heard that they might be closing some schools down. As a result, class sizes are going to skyrocket. We have a law here against classes over a certain size, but it’s cheaper for the schools to break the law and just pay the fines!

    It makes me sad, especially since I studied to become a teacher (though I got out before I even got in). I know what kind of effects this can have on students. This generation will be paying for this recession for their entire lives in more than one way.

  25. How can they legally go less than 180 days?

    Sounds like it is time to home school . . .

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