Commentary: The Foundation Of The Future Is Our Children – So Why Do We Want To Cut Them Out?

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The government is a business.  And as a business owner, I completely understand the challenges one faces during difficult economic times.  When times are lean, the need to cut back is a necessary evil.  But when it comes to making cutbacks, businesses must make strategic decisions to ensure the short-term gains will not ultimately have negative, long-term effects.  A perfect example is the pending reduction in Virginia’s education budget, which locally, could result in the closure of three Roanoke County elementary schools.

In a nutshell, the decision to drastically reduce the education budget to the point where schools close, teachers and staff lose their jobs and the quality of education available to our children decreases is just bad business.

During campaign speeches and political promises, the American people are constantly reminded that ‘our children are our future’ and we need to invest in them to carry the societal torch.  If our government is supposed to be responsible for looking out for our current and future interests, shouldn’t it be accountable to further strengthen our educational foundation instead of weaken it?  Isn’t our government expected to back up its promise to make our educational system the best in the world?  Of course it is.  So how is it good business to make cuts to a foundation that’s responsible to prepare our children as the country’s future leaders?

Reducing the education budget is a short-term benefit to help balance the state budget, but it is unequivocally a long-term disaster.

Here in the Roanoke Valley, the decision to close three elementary schools: Bent Mountain, Clearbrook and Fort-Lewis is one that stands in the face of hypocrisy.  In recent years, Roanoke County has built a new high school, Hidden Valley, to address over-crowding issues at Cave Spring.  In Roanoke City, Patrick Henry has expanded to meet the school’s growing needs.  The same goes for William Fleming.  The government’s decision to close these three local elementary schools is a move that will take us steps backward.  It will create over-crowding among the elementary schools.  Déjà vu all over again.

We need to continue to move forward.

Closing these three elementary schools, which would require students to assimilate into other elementary schools and increase the student-to-teacher ratio, doesn’t make sense.  Not only would this decision cost so many teachers and staff their jobs, it would also increase the workload of teachers and staff in the schools where students will be consolidated.  A teacher with 20 students could increase to 35.  Personal attention will reduce, especially for those students who absolutely need extra time with a teacher. A principal with 300 students could increase to 450.  Physical fitness activities will be compromised to handle the additional student load.  Bus routes will take longer to drop off children, digging into a child’s opportunity to get homework completed during a decent hour.  This would just be the beginning of the snow ball effect.

And let us not forget about morale among our school staff.  It takes very special people to commit their lives to a field in which salaries are nowhere near what they deserve. Just as important, we should not forget about the effects these decisions will have on standardized testing.  Teachers are already challenged to ensure their students are properly taught to pass these tests. We want our students to meet educational standards that exceed worldwide expectations.  How does cutting the education budget, reducing teachers and over-crowding classrooms accomplish this – all while telling those teachers who are taking on more responsibilities they will not be additionally compensated?

If we start chipping away at our future’s foundation, we will be making a catastrophic decision that will be difficult to recover from for many decades.  Now more than ever, we need to learn from past mistakes, make solid financial decisions that will yield positive long-term results and find ways to make monetary adjustments that will not put our future – our children – in jeopardy. Closing three elementary schools may not seem like a big deal to some, but the small, incremental effects of this decision that will occur over time will be more costly than any government deficit that exists today.

Stephen C. McClintic, Jr.