Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I can tell that we are gonna be friends. except on Fridays. Fridays won't work for me.

Fall is here, hear the yell
Back to school, ring the bell
Brand new shoes, walking blues
Climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are gonna be friends
I can tell that we are gonna be friends

-The White Stripes

WooHoo !!! Back to school, ya'll ! Nine heavenly months of free childcare education.

Except on Fridays.

Because here in Hawaii, and maybe coming to a school district near you, budget shortfalls have led to furlough days for government employees. Varying numbers of days without pay, in order to reduce swelling deficits. And people included in those furloughs ? Teachers.

You are going to have to excuse me, because I have found a soapbox, and I am climbing up and waving signs and yelling until everyone hears what I have to say. Houston (or insert any city name here) we have a problem.

You know, I am down with one less day of postal service, or reduced hours at the department of motor vehicles. If you need to close the library an additional day every week, or limit the hours at the Smithsonian, I understand. Times are tough. We all have to sacrifice. But not my kids. My kids don't have to sacrifice. They had nothing to do with this budget deficit.

So when I hear they are going to be saving money by closing the schools ? I don't buy it. That doesn't make any sense to me at all. If schools are closed for an additional day (here in Hawaii, the proposal has schools closed almost every Friday between now and January, and then 2 Fridays per month for the rest of the school year) then parents will either have to take the day off of work, or pay for childcare. Either way, it is going to affect their income, and when you look at the big picture, it will effect the taxes they pay. Which will lead to less money. Not to mention, some pretty aggravated parents. And we haven't even started talking about their employers.

And this also means a lot of kids out of school, and potentially left unsupervised. Bored kids find things to do. We were all kids once, I think that it is safe to say that some kids would make poor choices about what to do with that extra time. Here are just a few things that come to mind: How about teen pregnancy? Sex is a fun, free activity perfect for the teen home alone all day! Or maybe increased drug use? Or criminal mischief i.e. destroying public property, breaking and entering while homeowners are at work, leading to the ever popular theft or vandalism. Not to mention the kids who could be injured while home alone during the day, either at home maybe cooking theselves some mac n cheese or on on the street riding bikes without helmets or darting into the street. With increased unsupervised hours, comes increased problems across the board. Not by every kid, of course - but it's not a reach to say it could happen.

And what about the teachers, who are already spending their own money to buy school supplies, working late into the night and arriving early in the morning all for our children ? Why are they being penalized ? Did they just give Too Much ? Yes, let's cut their pay. Absolutely. Clearly, they are living too high on the hog.

I have to be honest - if I didn't have children, I probably wouldn't think twice about this. I mean, why should MY tax dollars go to pay for the schools. Why should the schools remain unaffected - is one less day going to matter ?


Yes it is.

And that is why we have to get loud. We have to come up with alternatives, solutions, ideas, other ways that our towns and cities and counties and states can save money. Because closing schools should not be on the table. Not even for one day.

I made light of it at the beginning of this post, but I'm very serious about this. It's not just about childcare. Or competing with other developed nations. Or about having kids in a safe and productive environment. You may not know this, but in many places (my town included) school provides the only real FOOD these children get. Now, I am not one to crow about the fabulous cafeteria food (chicken patty, anyone ?) but at least they are getting a hot, filling meal with some fruits and vegetables. And even that isn't enough.

Teachers, the ones who's salaries are so blithely being cut by my state government, are not just using their own money to buy things for the classroom - many teachers are also bringing in food, because the children were so hungry they were having trouble concentrating in class. Too many kids come to school on Monday mornings weak and lethargic, because their parents are having trouble putting food on the table. And often times, the food they do get outside of school is not healthy, because people operate under the misconception that healthy food is more expensive. The kids are not getting fruits and vegetables, or whole grains. Their diet is frequently loaded with sugar and salt and fat. Which leads to obesity, and affects their immune systems and their development. Which, yes, you you guessed it, leads to more expense, more time off of work and school, diminished productivity, and in the end, less tax dollars, and less money injected into the economy.

It's all connected, and if we do not stand up and say NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT, NOT IN MY TOWN, NOT IN MY SCHOOLS, NOT IN MY NATION will the children be given any less then everything we can give...if we don't say that, their rights, their well being, their future, will diminish.

We have to make a case for our kids. They are losing out already. Art, music, physical education - those programs have all been cut to varying degrees. Whitney Houston (and I cannot believe I am actually saying this - but you can quote me) was on to something - the children are our future. And if we don't look out for them now, they will not be able to lead us to a bright and prosperous tomorrow.

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