Tag Archives: school finance

The What: Maintaining the balance of powers

OK, so, I’m cheating a little bit for this last post of “what week”, because, while this is about a policy itself, it’s one that would–in fundamental and actually quite frightening ways–affect the how of policymaking, too.

In Kansas this legislative session, and in some other parts of the country, too, there have been explicit attempts to cut the judiciary out of the policymaking process.

In my state, this has taken the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to stipulate that only the legislature has the authority to determine what appropriate funding for public education is, so that, essentially, the ‘right’ level of funding is whatever the legislature decides to give, and students and schools would lose their right to seek redress from the courts.

It would be damaging to public education.

And it would be a really dangerous precedent.

History is replete with examples of when judicial advocacy has been a successful path to social justice. Even when individual justices, or even the entire judiciary, is fairly conservative, the way in which the court operates can sometimes lead to surprising conclusions.

In ways that are really promising for the pursuit of the ideals on which the country was founded.

Individuals with disabilities entitled to access, people of color pursuing equal opportunity, gays and lesbians seeking the right to marry…all deserve to have all of the channels of our government open to them.

Sometimes social workers, as advocates, can lose sight of the importance of some of these ‘process’ threats. We have not been very active in the campaign finance debate. We tend to be absent in the fights over collective bargaining rights.

And, so far, at least in Kansas, social workers have not been very present in the constitutional amendment battle about the role of the judiciary, either. Maybe, in part, that’s because school finance isn’t seen as ‘our fight’. And there are plenty of things that are. This session alone, we’ve faced budget cuts, more tax restructuring, drug testing TANF recipients, and elimination of some early intervention programs. Among others.

But if we lose on these ‘whats’, we will find ourselves with very constrained options for pursuing tomorrow’s ‘hows’.

If the other side changes the rules of the game, we will find it harder and harder to win.

It’s certainly not that the judiciary is always a slam-dunk for justice.

But it’s part of the system that, over time, has worked better for securing liberties than any other. And we face far better odds with the courts at the table than without.

So, this, too, has to be our fight.

Parenting and Dead Ideas

We’re all affected, perhaps infected (?) by dead ideas.

It’s almost eerie, really, when you stop to think just how little we think about how things could be different–really, radically different–instead of just slightly modified.

And when you realize how imperceptibly dead ideas infiltrate our way of seeing the world.

Because they’re in my parenting.

And they’re impacting my kids.

  • The idea that school funding should be local, which not only traps some kids in really ill-equipped and under-funded schools but also creates a climate in which my children grow up without a full understanding of how we all share responsibility for the education of the entire populace. The truth? That real autonomy–read: the power to educate our children as we must–only comes with the robust resources and collective commitment that would accompany a more centralized financing.
  • The illusion of upward mobility for future generations, and my realization of its falseness, and how that means that my husband and I are trying to prepare to shelter our kids from the unknown ravages of a future economy. It also affects how we live pretty modestly, so that our children do not become accustomed to goods that they don’t need and may not be able to secure. But it surrounds us, still; our local high school had new fewer than three screenings of Race to Nowhere last year, since so many parents are so eager to make sure that their children’s educations prepare them for ever greater career triumphs. And I find myself daydreaming, every once in a while, about what my kids might be when they grow up. And it’s something satisfying, which, because of how our economy is structured, means fairly prestigious.
  • The myth that the ‘company should take care of you’, and the disinvestment in any alternative retirement or health care systems, which means that, on a very practical level, I could not afford to do what I do–teach and consult and take on work that fascinates me–if not subsidized by my husband’s company, and privileged by the status our marriage gives me. It’s odd, then, to tell my kids about my work and know that they can’t see the ways in which it is subtly gendered, or know how precarious our lives could be without a corporate safety net that is increasingly tattered for so many people.

What does this mean?

How, then, do we resist the pull of dead ideas?

Some of it, as a parent, means encouraging my kids to ask ‘why’…a lot.

It means being helping them to question assumptions and the way things are, and being okay with messy answers.

But, beyond my private sphere, it means challenging myself, my friends, our institutions, and our policymakers. It means pointing out that a school finance approach that expects each to take care of her own only works if you have enough. And being upfront about the privilege that affords me the career opportunities I have. And not falling for the conceit of telling my kids that if they just work hard enough, they can have anything they want.

It means not running on autopilot, even when coming up with new ideas is harder.

Coasting never works well in parenting, anyway.